‘Hell’s Kitchen’ chef serves life lessons to Crosby students

From a dark time in his life to being a celebrity chef on a national TV show, Chef Abe Sanchez offered his season’s thanks by teaching some of his skills to high school students in Crosby.

The ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ contestant survived another round in the latest episode of Fox’s competitive cooking TV show starring chef Gordon Ramsay.

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Away from the small-screen drama with feisty, celebrity British chef Ramsay, Sanchez opened his heart to Crosby High School students entering the culinary arts program last week.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Chef Vasso Espinosa, a culinary arts instructor at Crosby High School. “I’m very honored that he chose us.”

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From filming the Hollywood production in Culver City to Cougars’ Bistro and Catering — the culinary program restaurant on campus — the chef visited students and shared his life story.

Sanchez said he grew up feeling like the black sheep of the family, falling behind his highly successful siblings.

The student took a wrong turn early in his life and sometimes found himself on the wrong side of the law.

“I was always a brilliant student, a person and a soul. People saw good in me. I just had to find time to see it in myself,” he told students.

He went through an agonizing divorce, and that’s when he started to find himself.

“I was at the bottom of the scale, I had nothing going for me. Some people see suicide when they go through this stuff, especially the type of breakup I was in. All I have seen, they are my children. I saw the eyes and my soul through my children,” he said. Sanchez decided he had to do something with his life because he wanted them to see him as a role model.

The story was enlightening for Espinosa and his students.

“I said to the students the next day, ‘Who is going to open up like that? I mean, he explained everything,” Espinosa said, explaining to the students that his choices weren’t always right, but he found his calling and it’s never too late.

At 30, he brought his little skills in preparing barbecue and crayfish to the Lenotre Culinary Institute and trained in cooking and baking.

“I was a superstar in my class, always thinking outside the box,” he said.

His first culinary job at Embassy Suites was a pay cut from his previous job at a warehouse, but in the long run it led to the success he enjoys today.

After jumping from job to job, traveling for his business as executive chef during the pandemic, he retired to stay home with his family more often.

Recently, he went full-on into his meal prep business he started during the pandemic, Kitchen Monster Creations in Crosby.

“I sell 500 meals every week in just one neighborhood in Crosby,” he said.

Now he’s looking for a kitchen on the east side of Houston to expand. With a business plan in hand, the chef thinks he can grow the business to 10,000 to 15,000 meals a week.

“The results people get from menus, they like the flavor, it’s crazy,” he said. Sanchez said he didn’t read a book or do any research; he just knew in his head what the customers wanted.

“I knew healthy food choices would be good alternatives,” he said.

At $10 a plate, the business has taken off, and he’s saving up to open a restaurant once his run on “Hell’s Kitchen” is over.

After successfully going through an arduous audition process to compete on the show, he is ready to win and hopes the prize money will help him achieve more of his dreams.

Unable to reveal too much due to a non-disclosure agreement, episode 7 aired last week and it still hasn’t been taken down.

After landing the gig with the show, his wife was fired from her job.

“It’s coming out of nowhere, but we’re good right now. I’ve always said that no matter how hard I struggle, it’s for a reason,” he said.

A win on the show could net him up to $250,000 a year at one of Ramsay’s restaurants as executive chef and a cash prize of $250,000.

He would like to spend some of those winnings on students who suffer from ADHD like himself, and those who suffer from diabetes like his own parents who live with the disease every day.

During his visit to Crosby High School, he worked with students on knife skills and other tasks in the kitchen.

The school restaurant, which is licensed with Harris County, provides a real-world dining experience and enhances opportunities for students when applying for jobs.

When Espinosa arrived a few years ago, the program had just over 50 students. It has grown to over 120 across four different tiers and growing every year.

“During the 2004-2005 school year, the TEA decided to develop 16 career clusters, including culinary arts,” Espinosa said.

The program evolved from a food production course, similar to home economics, to a serious culinary arts program where the curriculum was created by industry professionals.

“Having an accredited program allows our students to apply for acceptance into top schools like the Culinary Institute of America in New York that requires six months of experience,” she said.

It also opens the doors to scholarship offers.

Its kitchen has been well equipped and furnished by the district and external donors who have contributed.

Espinosa said she is proud of the journey of her students who are eager to help and learn.

“Now when I need help with a special weekend event, their hands fly in the air to volunteer,” she said.


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