“UHCHI has both great training and a great job placement program. I appreciate that because there aren’t a lot of people like me in the kitchen. I definitely want to wake up every day and take up space and help make space for other people like me to come in.”

Margaux Hearon always had an eye for design, but not just with clothes. Ever since they were a kid, Hearon was in the kitchen learning recipes as their grandmother prepared supper. Television shows like Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off and The Food Network became visual textbooks for making food look and taste beautiful. Eventually, Hearon picked up real textbooks – for design school, not cooking. But little did they know that with the right push, Hearon could merge this passion for design into a full-time culinary career.

That push eventually came from a close friend, who told Hearon about the UHCHI Culinary Apprenticeship. Already, Hearon was catering to make money when the pandemic shut down design school. At first though, the decision to turn a side-hustle into a full-time commitment seemed daunting.

Hearon’s friend encouraged them by describing how an official certification could grow the catering business further. Then he offered a reason that struck the unheeded artist in Hearon: the power of self-expression. Believing that formal culinary training could empower their eye for design and long-lived love of food, Hearon applied for their start as a UHCHI Culinary Apprentice.

Hearon soon joined the next cohort of UHCHI apprentices despite never having cured fish or made pasta from scratch. Still, the tasks came naturally. “It was like I finally got to be hands-on with the things I always watched on TV,” Hearon recalled. UHCHI’s chef instructors took notice as well. They started offering Hearon extra chances to learn outside the classroom, even asking that Hearon participate in a burger-making competition at the Culinary Fight Club event hosted by local non-profit Fight to Feed.

Hearon agreed to sign up, not knowing much about the competition other than it was another learning experience. It then came as a big surprise when the day before the cook-off, Hearon discovered they did not just have to cook one burger; Rather, they had to make 60 burgers in under an hour, with six going to the judges directly.

“I didn’t even know I needed a grill!” Hearon recalled laughing. “I thought we were just going to show up and they have the ingredients.”

Hearon hastily dialed their mother and sister (who is vegan) to help prepare the burgers. Together, they rushed to Family Dollar and grabbed two cheap grills along with the rest of the required ingredients. “It was so surreal,” Hearon said. “At the time, I was more afraid to speak about my burger than the result, since I am not much of a talker.” By the end of the day though, Hearon not only completed the 60-burger challenge, but also won the entire competition with their “Take me to the Island” Burger. Hearon gained entry to the final stage where they will go against Chicago’s most renowned chefs, including UHCHI’s very own Lead Instructor, Chef Victor Martinez.

Looking back, Hearon credits UHCHI for their newfound confidence in the kitchen. Not being able to finish design school, Hearon was ecstatic after finishing the 8-week training for having the chance to bring their culinary skills to new heights. With the help of UHCHI’s job placement program, Hearon found themselves looking for jobs in Chicago’s top kitchens.

“UHCHI has both great training and great job placement.  I appreciate that because there aren’t a lot of people like me in the kitchen,” Hearon explained. “I definitely want to wake up every day, take up space, and make sure that there’s space for someone else like me to come in.”

The space Hearon occupies now is the Waldorf Astoria, where they work as a Cook Three. Flashed constantly with fashionable purple awnings and a kitchen equipped to make salami roses, Hearon remembered and  described the feeling of walking through Waldorf’s doors: “This is me. This is where I belong.”