Here’s How Richards Helped Nahshon Williams Take Her Love of Cooking from a Hobby to a Career Path

The middle child of seven, Nahshon Williams first learned to cook at her mother’s side, helping with her catering business. “I always used to help her in the kitchen,” she says. “Say she was cooking chicken and waffles–she’d cook the chicken, I’d cook the waffles.”

In her own cooking, Williams focuses on flavor first. “I like to put flavor to things,” she says. “If it’s something big, I’ll put pressure on the presentation.”

Williams chose Richards Career Academy for high school because it was close to home, not realizing it had one of the strongest culinary programs in Chicago Public Schools. Richards was a lucky find and a great fit. Now Williams plans to move on to Washburne Culinary School, part of City Colleges of Chicago, the city’s community college network.

By getting into the culinary field, Williams is picking a high-growth industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts chefs and head cooks will see faster-than-average job growth through 2026. Thanks to the award-winning culinary program at Richards, Williams will leave high school with some industry experience already under her belt.

Richards culinary instructors Mark Soltis and Katharine Walsh maintain strong ties with Chicago’s restauranteurs and food service providers in order to connect their students with work experiences. “I love how Ms. Walsh, my culinary teacher, helps me out. She gave me the opportunity to bake 200 gingerbread men for a restaurant called Batter and Berries,” says Williams. Chef Ken Polk gave her the chance to have her gingerbread featured in a two-week French toast special.

Walsh also introduced Williams to Washburne. “We went over and saw their kitchen,” Williams recalls. “It’s way bigger. I was like, ‘I could work in that.’” Walsh has also helped with a scholarship application to Aramark to help pay for culinary school.

Eventually, Williams hopes to be cooking for her neighbors by opening her own soul food restaurant in the area where she grew up: the South Side, where Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood meets West Englewood. As for culinary school, she says, “I’m a little shaky, nervous. But I feel like I’ll get in the routine. It’s a bigger experience.”

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Maureen Kelleher

Maureen Kelleher

Maureen Kelleher is a senior writer and editor at Education Post, but before that she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an associate editor at Catalyst Chicago, the go-to magazine covering Chicago’s public schools. There, her reporting won awards from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the International Reading Association and the Society for Professional Journalists. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of an elementary student at Chicago’s Namaste Charter School. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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