Making A Difference

Chicago Chef Looks to Change Lives Through Culinary Mentoring

A Chicago chef who turned her life around is paying it forward as a mentor to help young people thrive in the restaurant industry.

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Chef Lakisha Hunter is finally living her purpose as a mentor to young adults and kids who need a hand up in life.

“I was them”,  she said.  

“I was an at risk youth. I was a gang leader in Englewood and I almost missed the opportunity of life.”

Hunter was involved in gang activity at an early age, and was almost expelled after starting a fight in high school. 

“I didn’t realize that fighting this person from another school would start a whole riot.  The whole 61st Street police district was there.”

She credits her culinary teacher for challenging her.

“She said, 'You can choose your game, but to be in my program, you need to choose culinary arts. One or the other.'  That’s all these kids need. That’s all these young adults need.”

Following her participation in the NRAEF’s ProStart high school culinary arts and restaurant management program, Hunter, who goes by Chef K, is now a trainer with the HOPES program—which stands for Hospitality Opportunities for People Reentering Society. She is also the founder and owner of That Jerk Spot LLC, a mobile food truck and catering business, and runs a non profit called Rise Above The Ordinary. 

“Our kids just need a cheerleader,” said Angela Daniels, who is a workforce development manager at Lawrence Hall, the agency which oversees the HOPES Program. 

“And that’s what we’re doing here to back them up, in any way possible, and that’s what we need from our community.”

Lawrence Hall has trained 54 participants through the HOPES program, including 21-year-old Ikell Campbell–Mixon who used to find himself in and out of trouble.  Now, he wants to franchise a restaurant chain.

“At first, it was like me just surviving. Now, I’m living. And chef (is) the reason I’m living.”

Totanisha Jones is also a HOPES participant. She works at MOD Pizza and was recently promoted into management. She says she would have ended up in jail without the HOPES program. 

“Being with HOPES, it make me wake up and look at life a different way,” Jones said.

Chef K sums it up, "It’s all about choice. Choose wisely. Be approachable to your decision."

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