It’s 6:30 a.m. and the Tyler Junior College campus remains dark and quiet with no one in the parking lots. Yet, warmth radiates from the stoves, large towering ovens, and loud clashes of pans and pots in the TJC Culinary Center. It seems like a different atmosphere with the bright lights, clattering of pans and the constant movement in the kitchen.
For those like Mason Griscom, a 19-year-old culinary student, this is what a typical day looks like. However, for Griscom; his day starts even earlier at 4:30 a.m. for the hourly drive to Tyler from Alto, where most students sit behind a desk in sweatpants and a hoodie in a classroom filled with other seats in rows and a podium at the front, Griscom is surrounded by his classmates in a white chef’s uniform, black non-slip shoes.
“I didn’t like sitting in classrooms during high school anyways. I would always look forward to home ed more than anything because I got to move around and experiment with food,” Griscom said.
The TJC culinary program offers an associate degree and two certificates. For those who don’t want to be in the kitchen as much, the program also teaches sanitation, food management, menu management, hospitality and service as well. The building is relatively new considering it was built in 2019 and is located next to Pirtle on the main campus. For more information about the culinary program, visit https://www.tjc.edu/culinary.
Griscom’s love for culinary started when he was young living on a farm and he became obsessed with the art of cooking barbecue. First, he entered local barbecue competitions with his dad and later decided cooking is something he wanted to pursue in life.
“I also took a home ed class in high school and that’s kind of when I decided I really wanted to pursue culinary in college,” Griscom said.
When he’s not attending classes, Griscom works in a restaurant of a railroad hotel called “The Redlands Hotel” in Palestine. The hotel recently had a fire in the kitchen and is missing items or damaged, but that doesn’t stop Griscom from working with what he can as the entire hotel is still up and running and the recovering restaurant will have its soft opening soon.
Along with other students like Griscom, Michelle Rocha, a 51-year-old culinary student and mother of three kids, also changed her career choice to pursue culinary. Originally, she was aiming to get her teaching certificate until her youngest daughter decided to do culinary after graduating from Robert E. Lee High School.
“I joined culinary because my daughter’s friends bailed on her last minute and she was terribly upset,” Rocha said. “I asked my daughter if it would be okay that I join the class with her, and she happily agreed. We get along since she’s my youngest and we also get bonding time, too.”
Rocha said she couldn’t see herself working in the culinary field, since her mother didn’t let her in the kitchen a lot during her childhood.
“My mother always needed to be in the kitchen alone to focus, and I never really learned how to cook at all until I got kids,” Rocha said. Now, Rocha and her daughter are in the same class.
Whether it’s pursuing a job that brings happiness, has a deep meaningful connection or even both, Jamie Hernandez is another culinary student at TJC who is in Griscom’s and Rocha’s class.
“I got into culinary because when I was younger, my grandma would always bake for family neighborhood parties, and I would help her and that’s where it started,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez has been in the culinary center for almost two years and when she isn’t there, she’s working at Fresh in the baking department. She’ll be enrolled in Advanced Pastry next semester, and she sees herself working under an apprenticeship after graduating from TJC.
Whether one is like Rocha, Griscom or Hernandez, it seems all three of the culinary students have an emotional connection to pursue their dreams rather than the zeros behind the dollar sign.