My name is Helen Perez. I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I originally had plans to start college for a career unrelated to food and beverage. However, a few months before graduating high school, my sister passed away, and I decided to hold off on school and get a job until I no longer felt depressed. I found a job at a marketplace with a deli.

Nine months in, I met a Chef who would tell me stories of what it was like to work in a kitchen. During my downtime at the marketplace, I would go into the deli and ask the chef to show me how to cut correctly and make sauces for the sandwiches, the flatbreads, and the whole chicken. I eventually requested to switch to a full-time prep cook. I didn’t love it at first. The days were long, and my body hurt, but I loved creating. Cooking saved me. I saw beauty in life again following my sister’s passing.

In 2019, I was given a job opportunity by a chef. She was a female chef with two James Beard awards, something I didn’t know about before entering her kitchen. I learned to do everything from scratch. I taught myself knife skills on my days off. I read about the food I was making. I saw how a woman chef held so much power through food. Within that year, they awarded me the back of the house employee of the year award.

What keeps me in the industry is my desire to grow. I tried leaving the industry once, and nothing compared to the feeling I get when I’m there. I hope mental health becomes more significant in the kitchen. I feel we get so caught up in “perfection” that we fail to realize people have emotions and are not working machines.

Humility and grit will get you further than any talent you have. Cook from the heart. Be patient. Some masterpieces take years to make.