Chef dreams: Madison teen graduates a year early, heads to Culinary Institute in NYC

Julian Sanchez works in the Goodman Community Center kitchen. Photo by Omar Waheed.

He is a bit timid and focused, but he is working to get out of his bubble. At just 17, Julian Sanchez faces the opportunity of a lifetime to pursue his passion in the culinary arts after he was accepted into The Culinary Institute of America in New York.

Sanchez is graduating a year early thanks in large part to the Goodman Community Center’s TEENworks program, through which he earned five of the 22 credits necessary to graduate. Through real experience, earning credits and career advice, Sanchez was able to find his calling and passion as a chef working in the Goodman Center’s kitchen. He is set to move to New York soon but is facing a huge financial burden in attending one of the top ranked culinary schools in the world.

“I’ve been around cooking for a long time, since I was a kid cooking with my parents. So that’s kind of what got me interested in it,” Sanchez said in an interview. “I feel like I’ve been cooking more than other kids when I started this program, where I learned about catering as a process, and I really liked it. That’s what really started my passion for cooking.”

Sanchez started along his path in the culinary arts when he first joined the 9 on Time program the summer before he entered high school at La Follette. He’s not the most sociable kid, he admits, but cannot help but smirk ever so slightly when he thinks about his time at Goodman and where he is headed after. Sanchez knows that communication is not his strength but his skill in the kitchen speaks for itself.

He’s also overcome the shyness to lead a middle school cooking class at Goodman. He also helps drive the menu for Goodman’s Good Works Community Catering, and is challenging himself to learn new cooking techniques. His current focus is French cuisine, which was prompted by a French cookbook Goodman’s catering chef gave him.  

 “When I was younger, I didn’t really have any plans for the future. It only really started once I got my passion for cooking,” he said. “I never intended to go to college or anything like that, so if it weren’t for cooking, I probably wouldn’t be going to college or even graduating early. I think it’s something that really drives me to want to succeed.”

 He hopes that attending the Culinary Institute will help him reach his goals to become a chef. After his education, Sanchez wants to travel the world to experience authentic cuisines to find inspiration to start his own restaurant. New York is just his first stop in a long run of expanding his culinary palette.

 Despite the growing interest in the cuisines of different cultures, Sanchez keeps his favorite food basic. A simple pizza, which he finds to be a boring answer, is still something that he can sit down and eat anytime despite his recent branching out into cooking French Cuisine.

 While he feels some relief in finishing up at La Follette and ready to get to his next chapter in life, Sanchez doesn’t ease up on himself and believes that he could be doing even more.

 “I guess I’m just too hard on myself. I mean like I feel like I do a lot, but at the same time I feel like I don’t do a lot,” he said. “I’m doing a lot. Other people know I’m doing a lot right now. People are all excited for me. I just feel like I haven’t done enough.”

The drive to do more is why Sanchez has such a strong focus on food. With its rich history, necessity and changes, he feels like there is always something for him to do and learn about. Sanchez has found resounding support from the Goodman Community Center and its programs through working with people like Catie Tollefson, assistant director of youth & career development at Goodman. She raves about Sanchez all the time and how excited and proud she is of him. Tollefson feels like Sanchez embodies the goal of programs like TEENworks in helping students find their passion.

The TEENWorks program is funded by a grant from education-focused nonprofit Ascendium. 

That grant funds programming at the center, but not travel and tuition and other expenses after students graduate. Tollefson started a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $20,000 to help cover the travel and living costs for Sanchez to move to New York.