2021 Career Technical Education: Alexandra Camacho
Alexandra learned to cook from her mother at the family’s home in south Los Angeles. At age 15, Alexandra’s world was shaken when her mother was deported to Mexico. Alexandra’s studies faltered, and she had to find an alternative to traditional high school.
When Alexandra started college, she initially resisted the idea of studying Culinary Arts. She began at Long Beach City College in hopes of becoming a videogame designer. She happened into a culinary course and it re-ignited her love of cooking.
She was set to walk the stage at commencement in spring 2020, then begin working a Culinary Voyage for Marriott, but COVID-19 derailed her plans. Undeterred, she simply took the extra time to earn an additional HRC degree and continue her plans for 2021.
Please tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What are your interests? What is your story?
I grew up in South Los Angeles with my sister, mom, and dad. At a young age, I was always fascinated with food. I always wondered how you turned a pair of ingredients into this extraordinary dish. I learned how to cook from my mom, and she would always supervise me whenever I cooked. Things were good until my mom was deported to Mexico in 2010. I was 15 at the time, and this experience forced me to grow up at such a young age. Due to this, I began falling behind in my classes. My sister took it upon herself to transfer me to George Kiriyama Community Adult School where I was able to not only catch up but graduate a year earlier than I was supposed to.
I attended Long Beach City College before transferring to Cypress College. Before attending any college, I wanted to become a Videogame Designer. For some reason, I was rebellious against the idea of majoring in Culinary Arts. While taking my prerequisites in LBCC, I took a Food Sanitation class that changed my perspective towards Culinary Arts. It was then when I remembered my love for food and took it upon myself to transfer to Cypress College. My interests include cooking, Baking, playing video games, researching new recipes, improving family recipes, story writing, and working on my cookbook.
What are you most passionate about? Why?
I’m most passionate about new experiences, creating new dishes, traveling, and continuously enhancing my skills.
Why did you choose Cypress College?
Whenever I had free time in between classes or semesters, I would do my best to visit my mother in Ensenada. I remember one time riding on the bus, trying to figure out my next step. When I looked out the window, I saw the sign “Cypress College, next exit.” Right then and there, I researched Cypress College and instantly fell in love with the Hospitality Management program. Once I finally set foot on campus, I knew this was where I was meant to be. In my previous school, I was only able to finish one degree at a time. Here at Cypress College, I was able to accomplish so much more in less time and I was surrounded by the greatest minds this program could offer.
What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded?
I have been involved in various aspects in the Hospitality Management program here in Cypress College. In fall 2019, I helped Chef Jeremy in his American Regional Class. I also helped train the students and help with service during Chef Amanda’s spring 2020 World Culture & Cuisine class. I was also the manager for the culinary/baking team for our Special Events class. We were working on the HRC Career Fair before the COVID-19 lockdowns happened. I loved helping as much as possible.
Share a memorable event or experience while you’ve been a Cypress College student.
I have many memorable experiences, but if I had to narrow it down to one it would be when I first attended Cypress College. Prior to attending, I always wondered if I was making the right choice. The second I stepped onto the Anaheim campus and walked into the kitchen, I knew this was where I was meant to be. I loved everything about it, the faculty, my fellow classmates, just everything gave me a sense of home.
Who are the faculty and staff (in your major, an academic or other support programs, etc.) who have helped you get where you are today?
I have been blessed to be able to thank the entire faculty and staff here at Cypress College. Chef Amanda Gargano helped me enhance my skills, taught me to think outside the box from a culinary perspective, and prepared me for the outside world when I did my culinary internship at Marriott in Seattle, WA. Professor Jeanette Jones & Professor Lisa Clark helped me be more comfortable in my own skin and not be afraid to use my voice. They both helped me not to be so shy. They both enhanced the leadership skills I never knew I had. Chef Stephanie instilled the patience I needed for both Culinary and Baking & Pastry Arts. She also gave me that confidence I needed to pursue Baking & Pastry Arts.
Lastly, Chef Jeremy was the first teacher I ever had when taking this path. He showed me the beginning steps to become the best chef I could possibly be. Each and every one of the faculty helped me get to where I am today, in a position I would have never dreamed of. I will take their guidance, leadership, and kindness wherever I go.
How has Cypress College supported you throughout your time at the college?
In what way hasn’t Cypress College supported me? It was always easy for me to see a counselor whenever I needed to know how I was doing in my career path. The faculty in the Hospitality Management program were always there to address any questions and concerns. They also helped with employment opportunities whether you were barely starting out or about to graduate from the program. They’re the ones that helped me land my summer Culinary internship in Seattle.
At the beginning of the spring semester in 2019, I had to undergo emergency surgery. I was out of school for two weeks while I recovered. All the professors at Cypress College understood my situation and allowed me to catch up on my assignments. Even after coming back, they were cautious of my situation and tried their best to accommodate me.
What are your immediate plans after completing your studies at Cypress College (at your transfer institution, in the workforce, etc.)?
I would like to become part of the Marriott Voyage Program so I can accelerate my career and strengthen my skills. Another path would be to join Marriott and eventually become a task force employee to be able to travel around and broaden my knowledge.
What are your long-term goals? What do you aspire to?
One day, I want to become an executive chef and travel the world to learn from different cultures to enhance my culinary skills. One day, I would love to open my own restaurant, catering company, or even my own hotel.
What are you most proud of?
There’s a lot I’m proud of; to narrow it down, I’ll do my best. In International Cuisine (now known as World Culture & Cuisine), I surpassed expectations by providing a completely different menu item. I was originally assigned Coconut Soup since I was out for two weeks due to emergency surgery. I completely failed at that dish, mainly because it wasn’t something I wanted to do from the beginning. I was at a crossroads, do I continue with this dish and try to improvise, or do I create something completely different? I decided to make something completely different — Malaysian-style Empanadas with Spring Oil and Creamy Corn Mousse. The fact alone that I made something completely different out of my own comfort zone made me exceedingly proud. Once I introduced this dish to Chef Amanda — along with the standardized recipes, plate diagram, and menu description — she was impressed. I knew this dish was it and I knew it would do extremely well for service at Cypress Bistro.
Another thing I’m extremely proud of was the fact that I did a Culinary Internship in Seattle, WA. It was my first time flying on a plane, working in the industry, visiting Seattle, and having to live on my own. Just as scared as I was, I was also extremely excited. Those three months helped me grow up as a person as well as improving my culinary skills. This would not have happened had it not been for the Hospitality program at Cypress College and the staff there that trained and encouraged me to pursue this.
What one bit of advice would you give to current and future Cypress College students?
As Melissa Joy Kong once said, “It’s the scary choices that end up being the most worthwhile.” Don’t be afraid to pick a different path or to take that internship in another state. Do what you need to do in order to become the best version you can possibly be. Whatever path you choose to take, Cypress College will help you in any of your endeavors.
How have you been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? What has gotten you through and/or what have you learned from it?
Last year in Spring 2020, I was supposed to officially walk the stage and head to Chicago in June for my Culinary Voyage for Marriott. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, my dreams were shattered and I wasn’t able to do any of those things. It took me a while to realize that regardless of the circumstances, they don’t take away from everything that I have accomplished. Spending time with my family and learning and practicing different dishes got me through this situation. I even managed to finish my Baking & Pastry Arts degree. As much bad as this pandemic has brought, it has also brought some good. It taught me to appreciate life and to pursue my dreams.
Is there anyone, in particular, you’d like to thank?
There are a couple of people I would like to thank. I would like to thank my sister for pushing me to where I am today. Who knows what would have become of me had I not had her to guide my way. She’s the greatest sister that any sibling can ask for, and I know I can rely on her for anything. My dad pushed and helped me to believe in myself no matter what anyone said. He has had to overcome a lot to get to where he is today. Even if he thought I wasn’t paying attention, I noticed every sacrifice he did for our family, and I am extremely grateful for that. My mom helped me breathe whenever I was spiraling or wanted to drop out. She helped me realize how small my problems were. Her dishes were the ones that inspired me to pursue Culinary Arts. Regardless of the distance between us, she’s always there for me. Lastly, the one true friend I had at Cypress College, Katrena Heraldez. She helped me in many circumstances, from taking me to the bus stop to get back home to helping me believe in myself inside and outside of school. She’s that one friend that everyone needs in all aspects of life, and I’m so glad I had her by my side. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have such beautiful people in my life. Each one of them has enriched my life and has enlightened my life.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
When you’re joining Cypress College, you’re getting more than just a college experience. You’re also getting a second family that will be there for you even after graduating.