I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. My dad is Filipino, and my mom is a mix of Italian and German.

Growing up in Cleveland, cooking or eating homemade meals isn’t part of the culture. My mom, who was single and working as a nurse trying to put herself through school, would get us McDonald’s or Craft Mac n Cheese. The only time I got exposed to real food was through my grandparents, who would make all kinds of Filipino food when they would watch me.

But that still didn’t spark my love of food or the desire to dive into cooking. It wasn’t until I got suspended in middle school that life took me in that direction. After my suspension, my dad–who had been divorced from my mother since I was a kid–thought the punishment was stupid and said that if I didn’t go to school, I would have to work.

At 12 years old, I started working as a pastry prep cook, and I liked earning money so much that I kept working part-time through middle and high school. Afterward, I got a job at a great Pizza place. There I met many people who were really into food. That pushed me to follow this career.

When I first got out of high school, I went looking for another restaurant, but back then, there were fewer choices, especially as a young cook. I’m 25 now, and since my start, there have been many changes in the industry. They’ve been for the best, in my opinion. Now, a new restaurant opens in Miami almost every year, trying to push quality food and the culture of caring about what you’re doing in the kitchen, and now it’s a lot easier to get a start.

It’s also important who you surround yourself with. All of my friends love food in one way or another, and the people you have around you will either build you up or down.