Culinary School Spotlight: Shawn Cowan

November 9, 2016

Cooking may have just saved Shawn Cowan’s life.

Housed at a level four correctional facility in Wilmington, Shawn Cowan saw a flyer for The Culinary School at the Food Bank of Delaware.

He didn’t pay much attention to it at first until a fellow inmate went through the training program. The two talked, and when Shawn’s house arrest wasn’t granted, he decided The Culinary School was exactly what he needed to get his life on track.

“This is my third five-year bid, and I looked around and I saw how young the people were,” he recalled. “When I was that age, I thought I was untouchable. Whatever I did I would be kingpin or a boss, and it was a never-ending cycle. I had to stop that cycle. If I don’t stop that cycle, I will end up being 60 years old and in prison. I don’t want that anymore.”

Now in week four of training, Shawn has learned a great deal to help him accomplish his goals.

“Once you enroll here, and you get accepted, not only do you get accepted in culinary school but you get accepted into the Food Bank family,” he explained. “Everyone looks out for each other, we all care about each other, and we are going to take care of each other.”

Shawn and his classmates have jumped right into learning everything needed to gain entry-level positions in Delaware’s food service industry.

“We spend a lot of time with knife skills, prep work, kitchen cleaning and working on ServSafe,” he pointed out. “ServSafe is really important – it teaches you how to properly prepare and cook food and keep everyone safe in the kitchen.”

Inspired by visits from Delaware Park guest chefs, Shawn is planning to fill out an application for employment.

“I definitely want to start out as a line cook,” he said. “Through hard work and showing the skills I am learning here, I hope to eventually move up to executive sous chef of even executive chef.”

Over the past 20 years, Shawn has worked 30-40 jobs.

“Construction, mechanic, if it could be done, I have done it,” he said.

In addition to numerous jobs, Shawn also served in the U.S. Air Force for just over two years. He served in Desert Storm in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

But thanks to The Culinary School, Shawn has discovered his true passion – cooking.

“This… I love to do it. You know how you always enjoy cooking at home, this is a different kind of cooking. It just makes cooking that much more fun,” he explained.

Shawn has a bright perspective on his future.

“I have been through a cycle in my life, and I am not ashamed of it,” he explained. “I have been in and out of prison ever since I was 19 years old. This gives me a chance to look forward to something besides getting out of prison, doing what I gotta do and then maybe ending up going back.”

“I am really looking forward to not having to sell drugs or rob people or anything like that ever again,” he said.

In addition to hands-on skills in the kitchen with Executive Chef Tim Hunter and Chef Instructor Donnie Stephens, the life skills curriculum of The Culinary School has also been beneficial.

“These skills help us to realize that the everyday things in life that people take for granted, if we sit down and plan properly or we use the right mindset, that we can handle them and not get so overwhelmed so easily,” Shawn pointed out.

“A lot of people get overwhelmed very fast and they turn to other things. If they had just taken the time to plan their day out, talk to people properly with respect, care and kindness, they’ll get a lot further and they’ll have less stress on themselves.”

Shawn’s advice to future students:

“The Culinary School teaches a skill that everyone needs. Not only can you cook for people, but people are always going to be hungry. They need someone to cook for them. Graduate culinary school, get ServSafe certification; you have a skill that everyone wants, and they are going to pay you for that skill. The better you get, the better off you are going to be.”

Ready for a life change? Click here to learn more about The Culinary School.

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