Jefferson Rodriquez-Martinez Realizing His Dreams

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“It was really amazing, and the camp was the beginning of what I could expect in the culinary industry.”

First-generation American Jefferson Rodriguez-Martinez got his initial taste of the food world thanks to his parents. “When my dad immigrated to the United States from Mexico, he started working in a restaurant,” he recalls, noting the experience “created that spark within myself for culinary arts at a young age.” And his mother’s love of whipping up boxed desserts at home while he was a child led Jefferson to realize where his true interests lie. “I always have had a passion for baking and pastries,” he says.

In 2017, while attending Eric Solorio Academy High School in Gage Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Jefferson learned he could explore his love for the kitchen at the annual weeklong Kendall College Trust (KCT) Culinary Camp. He applied and got a very special gift. “When I found out I had won the scholarship I was really surprised and excited, because it was the first time I received an award for something I worked for and was passionate about,” he says. “It was a great accomplishment.”

Because of his Kendall College Trust full-ride scholarship to the camp, Jefferson didn’t have to worry about buying materials, including chef whites, while attending. Instead, he was able to focus on everything from learning in all-day cooking classes to visiting the farmer’s market with a nutritionist and embarking on fun group evening excursions, like a camaraderie-building class skydiving adventure.

But the best part for Jefferson? Before he attended camp, he never had the opportunity to meet like-minded people with equally diverse backgrounds—future culinary stars who, like him, enjoyed discussing recipes and sharing different cultural takes on common dishes. “It was like we were talking the same language,” he says. “It was really amazing, and the camp was the beginning of what I could expect in the culinary industry.”

Today, Jefferson, 19, continues to pursue his long-term career goals thanks to another generous Kendall College Trust partial scholarship he received and used to attend Kendall College, where he will graduate with a degree in baking and pastry this winter.

“I think about Kendall and the KCT as a place where everybody is welcome,” says Jefferson of his continuing journey with the school. “I experienced that with the camp and then with the college’s staff, which was really nice.”

“The Trust strives to provide youth in underserved Chicago-area communities the chance to feed and nourish their culinary dreams from high school through their entry into the workforce,” says Kendall College Trust Executive Director Catherine De Orio.

Jefferson now excels at whipping up carrot cake, fruit tarts and macarons, and next on his expanding menu of goals is scoring a job with a well-known Chicago area pastry chef after graduation. But the icing on the cake, says Jefferson, would be someday following in generous Kendall College Trust donors’ footsteps by helping others.

“I want to be able to create my own foundation for students who want to attend a culinary school,” Jefferson says, noting Kendall College Trust scholarships “mean a lot” and proved to him “that someone’s being supportive of what I’m dreaming.”

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