A once-homeless Fort Worth student came back to town this week to visit and thank the people who supported his dream to go to culinary school.
“I want them to know I'm very grateful that there's actually people out there willing to take their time to help someone like me,” said Camron Sanders, a 2015 graduate of Trimble Tech High School.
During his senior year in high school, Camron was on his own. Trouble at home convinced him the only way he could succeed and pursue his dreams was to move out. He slept on a friend’s couch for a while, then later rented a room paid for with money earned at a restaurant job.
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Camron may not have had much family support, but he had Chef Natasha Bruton, the instructor at Trimble Tech’s culinary program. She encouraged him to apply to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. And when he got accepted, Bruton tapped her own bank account and called on friends and strangers to help support her student and his dream to dice, slice and cook his way to success.
“I was kind of shocked because I was getting random mail during the first few weeks of school from people I didn't know, said Camron.
The donations and a scholarship from Fort Worth Food and Wine Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival, helped Camron afford chef school.
“One of the three goals for the festival was to give back,” said Russell Kirkpatrick, general manager at Reata Restaurant and co-founder of the festival and its foundation. “And our way of giving back through the hard work of putting on the festival was to create a scholarship fund for local culinary students looking to further their education.”
“Every morning, I get up to go for breakfast at The Egg (the student restaurant on campus). And I'm like, ‘Oh my gosh, this campus is beautiful’,” smiled Camron.
He just finished his first year at CIA and is now at an externship at Island Oyster Bar in Boston, Massachusetts. His boss gave him a few days off, and he decided it was time to see his former teacher and the culinary community that supported him.
Naturally, the reunion happened at a restaurant, Fred’s Texas Café on Bluebonnet Circle. Everyone gathered around the table where food and friendship was served in ample portions.
“He’s still a little boy to me, but he's a man now, all grown up,“ said Bruton a few minutes after seeing her former student. “I haven’t seen him in a while. He looks good. He looks like he's eating, too.”
“I’ve put on about 15 pounds,” Camron quickly added.
“You can see a change talking to Camron,” said Kirkpatrick. “He says it was much harder than he ever imagined, which, I think for a lot of students, it is an eye opener especially something as difficult as the CIA.”
“Studying, homework then one hour of fun time to relax” is how Camron spends his days. “It’s very rigorous. You have to be on your toes all the time.”
The quiet young man who smiles often and easily has also discovered the rigor of life in the kitchen may not be for him after all.
“I try to pursue the education of being of chef. It's good enough for some people, but for my personality it does not fit,” Camron explained. “I still want to be a chef but not 24/7.”
Camron still wants to go to Japan and work as a sushi chef in a five-star restaurant as he told NBCDFW in June 2015, but he no longer sees the kitchen as the only place for him.
“It’s something I will pursue but not keep going on with. I've been thinking about being a teacher and teaching restaurant management and hospitality,” he said.
“I'm not surprised,” said Bruton. “He was always a leader. He always trained other kids. He would learn something and want to share that knowledge with others.”
Camron has another semester at CIA before he graduates in March 2017. He hopes the Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival will support him with another scholarship.
“Financially, I'm still having trouble for paying for school. So, scholarships? I'm still applying for as many as possible,” said Camron.
But there is one less worry for him. His family, a mother and four younger siblings, seem to be a bit better off than when we left.
“Last time I checked, they have an apartment finally. I'm really happy. That's a weight off my shoulder,” said Camron. “I can focus on school.”