Richmond man discovers cooking while battling addiction, wins trip to Italy


Richmond resident Joseph Ramirez is headed to Italy next month on a culinary scholarship, but the journey that earned him this trip is the best part of this story.

Ramirez, 28, who is originally from San Francisco, battled drug addiction for 10 years and was involved in gangs before discovering Richmond’s Bay Area Rescue Mission two years ago. The Rescue Mission at 200 Macdonald Avenue is a Christian-based center that helps the homeless and needy find not only shelter and resources but also pathways to housing, education and financial stability.

“To be honest I’ve only been cooking for like two years,” Ramirez said.

As he battled his demons, apparently a chef screamed to come out. With help from the Rescue Mission chaplains and staff, Ramirez said he has been sober for two years and has become passionate about cooking. He enrolled at Contra Costa College, where he is working toward his AA degree and also joined the school’s Culinary Arts Management Program.

Ramirez has shined in the kitchen, which is a big reason he was one of 12 applicants to be chosen for the Contra Costa College Culinary Arts Scholarship, which is sending students on a 17-day trip to study culinary arts in Italy beginning June 4.

It’s the perfect set-up for Ramiriez, whose favorite dishes to cook are Italian.

“For some reason I like making diffrent types of sauce with noodles and chicken,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez credits his instructors and also the Rescue Mission for taking a chance on him and giving him the tools to succeed. Now Ramirez is lending Rescue Mission and its clients the fruits of his talents and experiences.

“If it wasn’t for the Rescue Mission I’d be in prison or dead,” Ramirez said. “This place saved my life, and it feels good to give back to the community too and to reach out to people who are still broken and who need help.”

Ramirez said he will follow a pre-determined agenda on his Italian trip.

“I want to learn a lot while I’m there, like new sauces, different types of noodles, the culture as well as cooking techniques,” he said. “I plan to soak up all the knowledge I can from whatever chefs we encounter.”

Ramirez has launched a gofundme account to raise funds to support his trip. Those wanting to contribute can do so here.