When Kandy Alva came to New York City from Peru in 2008 she knew there would be many hurdles to overcome. “When you come here, you have to start over. You start at zero.” Although she had studied some English in Peru, she felt it necessary to learn English to survive in her new country. With her husband’s encouragement, she found local ESL classes at Queens College. Being in an academic environment while gaining English proficiency motivated Kandy to pursue her dreams to get a degree. In Peru, Kandy studied hospitality and tourism administration and was able to transfer her credits to Queens College toward a Bachelor of Arts degree. Kandy’s perseverance was evident in her first few years in New York: she often brought her 4-year-old daughter to class and had friends check her homework. While language and the pressures of financial aid were still a barrier, Kandy graduated with straight As, knowing that having a formal education would propel her toward new opportunities.
A background in hospitality and cooking was the perfect recipe toward Kandy’s success during Hot Bread Kitchen’s Culinary Training program. In 2018, Kandy found a listing for Hot Bread Kitchen’s Culinary Training Program and applied online. “I’ll try it, what can I lose?” Kandy reflects. “I didn’t know how amazing the experience would be.” Kandy came to Hot Bread Kitchen with a passion for cooking. In Peru, Kandy helped manage her family’s catering business, often helping her mother make wedding cakes. Naturally, when Kandy joined Hot Bread Kitchen, she felt right at home in the kitchen at the International Culinary Center.
Kandy found a community at Hot Bread Kitchen that she had yet to experience in her years living in the United States. For the first time, she saw representation in women that were just like her: immigrants, mothers, and non-native English speakers. “Hot Bread Kitchen allowed me to get ahead as a woman. When I was in the program I realized there are more women like me. It’s not just me [an immigrant] out there. You’re not the only person that has language barriers in this country, there are more women like me, “ Kandy shared. “It’s nice when you find other women who have the same passions and goals as you. These women have different cultures, from different countries.”
For someone like Kandy who has lived in the U.S. for a decade, finding space to process her journey as an immigrant was significant. Hot Bread Kitchen gave Kandy the opportunity to finally meet women from around the city and the world who have shared experiences. Kandy’s graduating class of 27 women were from over 10 countries. “We’re all people with the same issues from different countries, different religions, but we’re in the same situation. Hot Bread Kitchen loves you, they wanna see you grow. They give you the opportunity to make sure that you grow like a woman, like a mom, like a friend,” Kandy reflects.
After graduating from the Hot Bread Kitchen culinary training program in March 2019, Kandy now works full time for Restaurant Associates as a prep cook at one of Google’s New York cafeterias. At the Google cafeteria, Kandy works at a station that serves globally inspired homestyle cooking. She enjoys the exposure to cuisines like Korean, Spanish, and Morrocan food, tasting and learning new techniques and flavors. As studious as ever, Kandy researches the recipes in her free time to be as knowledgeable as possible about the food she’s cooking. “We are a family here in this cafe,” Kandy says proudly. Recently, Kandy even had the opportunity to cook Peruvian food for a staff lunch, introducing her favorite dishes to her managers.
Even after just a few months at Google, Kandy is already thinking about her professional goals. She wants to work her way up to become a sous chef. “I want to take more classes and keep improving,” Kandy explains. She will continue to gain more experience and learn from the experts at Restaurant Associates at Google.
Now that she is beginning to save money, Kandy is working toward bringing her mother and father to the United States from Peru. Once they’re here, Kandy wants to build her own business — an homage to family catering business back in Peru. For now, she’ll keep providing for her family and growing her new career.
Hot Bread Kitchen creates economic opportunity through careers in food. For more information, visit hotbreadkitchen.org.