My name is Ylenia Rago. I am 29 years old and am from Policoro, Italia.

When I was 12, I asked my parents to go to culinary school, but with firm determination, they denied me. After studying law for almost four years, I realized it was not what I wanted out of life. Even though my college career progressed well, I spent my nights cooking and experimenting with recipes. I never watched any programs about cooking; I hated them.

I never read a book about cooking until I realized I had to say goodbye to my future as a lawyer after I met a chef and asked him, “What is the best cooking school?” To which he answered, “The work.” It was April 7th, and on April 9th, I began this incredible adventure that, to this day, I consider putting on a chef’s jacket the best thing that has happened to me. I joined a brigade of 19 people, and my first day of work was an 11 1/2-hour shift in Rome, Republic Square. Now, I work at the Piazza Duomo Alba and have since been a cook for six years.

For me, it is not just about making food but about the excitement and emotion. It is indescribable. When I meet kids who have studied for years and perhaps have paid a lot of money to train who are not “hungry,” I get angry because they don’t realize how lucky they are to study culinary.

Since April 9th, 2017, I have never looked back. The kitchen is the most beautiful place in the world, and it’s the only place I feel at home. There is nervousness, but at the same time, there is organization. There is rigor, and there is discipline. There are mistakes, but always solutions, and that drives me. There is mostly adrenaline dictated by the pressure that gives you life. I could never live without it.

Every moment in the kitchen constantly marks me. I hope soon, chefs understand the value young cooks have in the kitchen and realize that they were just kids once.