Cooking for guests at a Philadelphia homeless shelter, Tyrone Williams gives people one piece of advice.
“I just tell them, you’ve got to keep striving,” he says.
Tyrone, 34, persevered through his 14 weeks in Philabundance Community Kitchen (PCK), a culinary- and life-skills program for adults looking for a fresh start. He found the program while he was searching for a job after returning from incarceration in 2016. He started truly enjoying the coursework in the second week, but shortly after, his father was diagnosed with cancer.
Tyrone struggled to decide whether to leave PCK for a paying job that would allow him to help more immediately with the family’s expenses or to continue through the program’s remaining 12 weeks and hope to find a job in a kitchen.
With encouragement from his father, who was a former chef, and from PCK’s Chef Instructor, Hugo Campos, Tyrone decided to stay enrolled at PCK. His family and his classmates helped him focus on class in spite of all that was going on at home.
“Hugo had some words of encouragement for me,” he says. “It’s not over. Stick it out.”
And he did stick it out, graduating with a Serv-Safe certification and new skills that helped him pursue a culinary career first in a commercial kitchen, and then at the shelter where he works. On the weekends, Tyrone passes his culinary knowledge down to his nieces.
Those skills from PCK still serve Tyrone today. He says Hugo taught him to work with flavor and with spices to elevate any basic dish, and now Tyrone’s personal spins on classic dishes like chicken alfredo are popular with shelter guests.
Tyrone supervises a four-person staff in the shelter’s kitchen, balancing managerial duties with helping cook for and serve food to 200 to 250 guests each day. The fast pace at PCK helped him adjust to the shelter’s kitchen, among other benefits.
“Every day (at PCK) it was a new challenge — shipping or receiving, washing dishes, being the sous or head chef,” Tyrone says. “It gave me the instinct to be able to follow or to lead.”
He’s grateful to the support of PCK staff and of his classmates. Thanks to the course and the people he met there, Tyrone has a salaried job with benefits, including a retirement plan that will help him save for the future. He has a job that gives him an opportunity to work hard, and by doing so, follow in his late father’s footsteps.
“I still tell people about PCK,” he says. “Even people at the shelter. It’s a great way to use this time you have and create a job.”
He wants to take what he’s learned from PCK and from his job at the shelter and teach others.
“Training other people is giving people the opportunity that was given to me,” Tyrone says. “I was given the opportunity after bumping my head so many times and finally falling in love with cooking. Maybe I can make someone else fall in love with it, too.”