Veterans turned chefs find happiness in food

- They've faced battle, but now some military veterans are doing combat in the kitchen.

They are armed with cooking utensils and their bare hands learning how to make bread.

They are taking on new skills as part of Vets2Chefs, a 12-week culinary training program for veterans in Manatee County.

"Vets2Chefs has blossomed since 2014 where we've had over 30 graduates in just the Vets-2-Chefs program", said Bryan Jacobs.

Jacobs, who served as a battlefield paramedic in the Marines, founded the program as part of Vets2Success.

"We've kind of started to see a real need, not only from a veteran's standpoint but also from an industry standpoint. Veterans needing great jobs but the industry needing great people", said Jacobs.

Jacobs love of cooking started in childhood. He was taught by his grandfather who was a chef during World War II.

"As most kids were making mud pie,  I was making roast beef and having many mornings where I would sit with him and discuss, 'what are we going to cook today?'" said Jacobs.

He said he hit some hard times following military service. Jacobs was homeless at one point.

But the most painful moment came Memorial Day weekend in 2014. His brother, who was also a veteran, took his own life.

"I remember you know getting that phone call and my world was upside down", said Jacobs.

The tragedy became a turning point.

"When my brother took his life he gave my life purpose I already had the passion for food but I didn't have the purpose behind what I wanted to do with food", said Jacobs.

Through Vets2Chefs, Jacobs is not only giving veterans a chance to expand their job opportunities, he's also putting them in charge of the kitchen.

John Esposito one of those veterans. He served as a chef during the Vietnam War.

"We tried to put up a bakery but wasn't really successful because we used to get mortared, rocketed and the equipment was blown up a few times, quite a few times", said Esposito.

"He was just trying to make people happy through food and so I couldn't imagine what he went through in Vietnam", said Jacobs.

Esposito is helping students like army veteran Patrick Cronin.

Like Jacobs, Cronin struggled after his military service.

But he said he's now found a new purpose thanks to the program.

"It's allowed me to use my creativity in ways I didn't know and also a sense of belonging that I didn't have and I was missing that I didn't know I was missing when I came back", said Cronin.

Now he sees opportunities rising for the future.

"I love cooking it's really fun for me I'm passionate about it and I look forward to going to work every day and I haven't had that in a long time", said Cronin.

Jacobs is proud of what these veterans have been able to accomplish. He thinks his brother would be proud too.

"I hope that he's looking down he knows that we're trying to make a change, give that support and that love and that sense of belonging and passion that he was looking for", said Jacobs.

For more information about Vets2Success https://www.facebook.com/Vets2success.org/

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