Life has many ups and downs, and when we fall, we must learn to get up again. This resilience is what keeps us going until we reach our goals. In the Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB) Community Kitchen program, many students come to continue their passion for cooking. This is the case for Cori Nehrbass, who is turning her life around and getting back on track to achieve her goal of having a culinary career.
From a young age, Cori has always been in and out of the kitchen. She would help in the kitchen during family gatherings and special events.
“Everything was always around food. Family gatherings were always ‘what are you going to eat, what are you going to cook.'” As a kid Cori remembers that cooking wasn’t always a passion she had, but the more she cooked, the more she came to love it. It also became a way to get closer to her father.
“My greatest memory of my dad is of him–every night and day–sitting at the bar watching me cook in the kitchen. That was our time–me and him in the kitchen.”
When Cori’s father was diagnosed with both Alzheimer’s and dementia, she moved in with her parents to help ease the load at home. She cooked and took care of her dad while her mother worked.
With her father’s deteriorating health, Cori found it hard to cope. “I knew my dad was going to be passing away, I was just in denial for a long time.”
When her father passed away, Cori remembers that she “lost it.” She dropped out of her dental school and began using drugs. “I was divorced as well, so I acted out. When my dad died, my world was torn upside down. It was hard to go through that.”
When Cori moved from Kansas to Texas in 2016, her past caught up with her. She was locked up in a maximum-security prison for almost two years.
In prison, Cori didn’t have any financial support. So, she started cooking for other inmates in prison so she could be able to eat. As Cori’s cooking skills became better in prison, more inmates wanted her to cook them food.
Cori’s ingenuity and will to survive was strong and creative. “I learned to make cakes with just a package of cookies, some creamer and some water. I got a hair dryer and an envelope, cut a hole out and put the dryer in it and that was an oven. You had to be creative in prison.”
After getting out of prison, Cori joined a yearlong faith-based program that helps women transition out of prison and into civilian life. Cori knew she wanted to change her life and culinary school seemed like a natural choice.
When Cori first heard about the Tarrant Area Food Bank Community Kitchen program, she wasn’t sure if it was the right program for her. But after learning more, she came around to it and thought it was an amazing opportunity.
“I’ve learned so much. You think you know how to cook until you get here.”
Cori continues to learn and is thrilled every day she comes to the program. “This is the whole package in itself. Not only do you get to work with amazing chefs, you get to serve, and you get to help cook the food that feeds the hungry–the people that need to eat.”
Cori expressed her feelings for the program staff. “Both Chef Manny and Chef D are amazing. Chef Manny is so knowledgeable, so patient and is a really good teacher. And Ms. B, she is so resourceful and helpful.”
After many weeks in the program, Cori will soon graduate and is excited for it. “This program is set up not so you can fail, but so you can succeed.” She is proud of how far she has come and how much she has learned from the program. She continues to cook her prison recipes with some of the girls in her program explaining that this helps them be grateful of the present. “It takes us back and humbles us. It makes us grateful to see where we are now.”
Cori is working hard toward a better future and a career in the culinary world. She recently started an internship through the Community Kitchen program when a partner chef of the program came to visit and recruited her. Partner chefs often come to demonstrate different cooking techniques that allow students to network and ask questions.
For Cori, this opportunity has been a fruitful one. She was hired before her internship ended.
Cori plans to continue learning and become a chef. A big goal of hers is to find a job here in Texas and work herself up to being in charge of a kitchen.
“My goal is to become a chef. I don’t want to own a business, but I want to run a kitchen one day.”
Although Cori still has a while until she reaches her goal, Tarrant Area Food Bank has been a major part of her journey and she is grateful for that.
“This place is amazing. I love TAFB. Everything about it. I am just blessed to be able to have come here. It’s an all-in-one program; you’re learning, you’re working, and you get to serve.”
Cori’s resilience and adaptability are an inspiration to many. She is determined to achieve her goals and knows that she is on the right road to success.
By Karen Vega
Communications Intern, Tarrant Area Food Bank
If you are interested in joining Community Kitchen, fill out our Community Kitchen Interest Form.