It wasn’t long ago that a job at Burger King started Cesar Gutierrez on a path away from a life of crime toward one of culinary success, which eventually would lead him to cook for Daniel Boulud and train at one of the best culinary schools in France.
Now 22, Gutierrez grew up in Queens, N.Y. He left home at the age of 12, after taking seriously his parents’ tough-love threat to throw him out. He fell in with gang life, sold drugs to get by, and wound up in jail twice.
“At 16, when I got arrested, it kind of clicked — ‘I can’t do this no more,’” he told TODAY.com.
He returned home and one day asked his mother to drop him off at the local high school. The former honors student earned his GED in a month.
He soon heard about a culinary trade school in Manhattan, which immediately triggered his interest. “When I was around 8 years old, I’d go in and help my mom chop potatoes, plantains,” he recalled. “I always liked to work with my hands. It all kind of made sense.”
At the School of Cooperative Technical Education, Gutierrez made another life-changing connection: his teacher Ed Serna, who gave him a crash course in chef life.