Jose // 2014-2016

I mentored Jose for two years at Wissahickon Charter. When I met Jose, he was lost. I saw a kid with severe learning disabilities, anxiety, and zero confidence. My supervisor recommended I mentor him because he had a love for art. Jose had drawing skills no doubt, but he lacked proportion skills and the willingness to accept criticism.

We worked every single day together for two years. I am so proud of everything we accomplished together. Jose got into The Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush, a private art school in Philadelphia. Without all of his growth in academics, he would have never gotten in.The best way to describe our relationship is through a speech I made for him at graduation.

A tradition at Wissahickon Charter is that a teacher speaks on behalf of every student during graduation. Below, is my speech to Jose.

When I met you, Jose, I had no idea you’d become this important to me. I saw a person who barely spoke more than two words, that I needed a decoder ring to decipher your mute mannerism like grunting and shrugging of shoulders.

When I began working in kitchens, the first thing you learn is basic knife skills from cutting onions. I hated cutting onions and I had the task of cutting a bag of onions each shift until my squares were perfect. Onions are the based of everything; soup, tacos, you name it. When I started mentoring Jose, it was like cutting onions. At the first cut, onions release sulfuric acid that make you cry. I pushed Jose to look at his grades, take ownership of his failures, and fundamentally care about his work and in return, he released sulfuric acid on me, pushing me to cry, back up, and put the knife down. Then, like any Chef, I wiped my eyes, pick up my knife, and continued to practice cutting and shaping my onion into perfect small squares. Slowly, beneath the sulfuric haze of kicking, screaming, silent treatments, lost reading logs, and the occasional lack of following project guidelines, I found the sweetness that onions can bring. Jose began blossoming at painting, began to share and articulate his feelings, reading on grade level, started turning in work on time, got a cool haircut, and finally read directions to projects without an excuse. He even started understanding my sarcasm and began testing his skills at the most developed form of wit.

It took 2 years, 360 bags of onions, 5 restaurant visits, 2 trips to the art museum, 3 art shows, and the Broad Street run for us to receive an acceptance letter from a special admission art school and to become a “Palates To Palettes” Chef choice winner, and find the sweetness that I always knew was in the center of my onion. Our food is nothing without onions and I am nothing without Jose.
— Love, Chef Watson