Aspiring Terrytown chef awarded $65,000 John Besh Foundation

Aspiring Terrytown chef awarded $65,000 John Besh Foundation

Aspiring Terrytown chef awarded $65,000 John Besh Foundation scholarship Susana Bravo of Terrytown has won a scholarship from the John Besh Foundatio...

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Aspiring Terrytown chef awarded $65,000 John Besh Foundation scholarship

Susana Bravo of Terrytown has won a scholarship from the John Besh Foundation and is attending the prestigious International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute) in New York.

By Celeste Norris, Terrytown Columnist on January 27, 2015 at 7:35 AM, updated January 27, 2015 at 11:48 AM

Susana Bravo's family moved to Terrytown from Mexico when she was just 5 years old. "We had nothing, and it was hard, but we all pulled together," Bravo said. "My dad got a job as a carpenter, and my siblings and I worked really hard in school." That work ethic paid off. Bravo was selected as a winner of a culinary scholarship, valued at $65,000, from the Chefs Move! The John Besh and Bride Mayor Scholarship. The winner gets paid tuition at the prestigious International Culinary Center in SoHo (Bobby Flay is a graduate), cooking equipment and uniforms, laptop, subway cards, grocery cards, and lodging in New York City, plus airfare to travel to and from New Orleans. The mission of Chefs Move! is to diversify kitchen leadership by providing minority applicants the opportunity to train up and become leaders in restaurant kitchens in their communities. Bravo is the fifth recipient.

Bravo had basic training in cooking and food safety at a trade school in New Orleans. Enrolled in the culinary program of the New Orleans Job Corps Center, her teachers noticed her exceptional focus and drive. Randy Savoie, business community liaison for New Orleans Job Corps, said, "Susana was a standout. She was a quick learner with a good attitude, and a heart for service. When volunteers were needed to feed the homeless at St. Jude's Community Center, she was the first to sign up."

Susana Bravo and Emery Whalen, executive director John Besh Foundation, catch up at Besh's new Johnny Sanchez restaurant on Poydras.Melinda Morris, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

After finishing trade school, Bravo took work where she could find it. She cleaned bathrooms at Benson Towers, got a seasonal job at Home Depot, and worked for a short time at the Golden Corral restaurant. It was when she was offered a job at Monteleone Hotel's Criollo restaurant, that Bravo's life turned around. Even though she had to take the bus until she could save up enough money for a car, she knew working with trained chefs in such a beautiful, reputable place would be a great opportunity. Executive Sous Chef Jose Munguia was indeed very supportive, and took her under his wing. At first shy, Bravo blossomed while working as a cook under his leadership. She was humorous and popular among the staff in the kitchen. Even though he knew he would be giving up a valuable employee, it was Munguia who encouraged Bravo to apply for the scholarship. Emery Whalen, executive director of the John Besh Foundation, said, "The screening committee was impressed by how supportive the Monteleone Hotel team was about her talent." She added that they were on target, as "Bravo is already halfway through the program in New York, where she has aced her mid-terms."

Bravo is grateful for the scholarship, and says that her experience in New York, so far, is surreal. "I live in a residence hall on the lower east side, and I'm surrounded every day by talented instructors and students from around the world. It's a huge blessing." She's quick to pull out her phone and show pictures of some of the fabulous dishes she's tried. Once she graduates, Bravo will return to New Orleans, where she will work in a paid internship at a John Besh restaurant. She knows that going forward, one of her responsibilities will be to mentor future award winners. Her eyes light up when asked what advice she will give to other aspiring chefs. "Go for what you want, and don't settle. This is important—it's your future," Bravo said. For more information about the program, email [email protected] or call 504.267.2119. The deadline for applications is Mar. 31, 2015.