dishes

Open Gate Kitchen in Costa Mesa dishes out hope, opportunity

When he lost his dad at the age of 13, Michael Rodriguez looked for ways to fill the void.

He turned to the neighborhood gang for support, and he had already begun experimenting with drugs a short time after. He was selling drugs just to get by.

“Once my dad died when I was 13, I wanted that love,” said Rodriguez, 25, of Stanton. “They all showed me love. I felt loved after my dad died, and I started hanging around with the wrong people, started using drugs, tried heroin after he died.

“I tried it a few times. I wasn’t addicted to it, but I liked the feeling. It kept me away from reality … about losing my dad.”

One thing led to another. By 14, Rodriguez was intermittently homeless. By 17, Rodriguez found a drug he had promised his dad he would never do in methamphetamine.

“I just cracked,” he recalled. “I tried it out. It was bad for a few years.”

Rodriguez said a family friend told him about a culinary school in Costa Mesa called Open Gate International, and it has become his way out.

The program takes aim at equipping people from vulnerable life situations with a skill set to find gainful employment, but also the life skills to make good choices.

Both Rodriguez and his stepbrother, David Lopez, 30, work for Open Gate Kitchen, the restaurant and proving ground for the culinary school’s graduates.

Open Gate International, an Orange County-based culinary school and nonprofit organization, has produced 138 graduates since it was launched in January 2017.

Guarded as one with his past might be, Rodriguez recounted that he would seldom talk to anyone when he entered the program. He learned to love it and said that Open Gate marked his first graduation of any

Warm fall dishes bring son to the kitchen, table

Friends warned me. People who, before me, had sons. They told me that my son would suddenly and abruptly not want to spend time with me. He would, they said, leave my camp. They said he would first leave me and then leave my husband. At the time it was hard to believe. He was so joyful, so fun, so very excited about the world and all of its gifts.

And then, of course, he did. He found his own interests, his own people, his independence. That was many years ago and I did my best to let him go. It’s good, it’s fine, it’s the way parenting is supposed to be. They grow and push you away and hopefully, if everything is right, they come back.

I’m working on Elliot coming back. He’s 16 now and a pretty laid-back guy. He does what we ask of him. Mow the lawn? Empty the dishwasher? Walk the dog? Yep, yup and did it already. Sometimes, we have to ask twice but it’s not a fight. My husband and I do ask him to hang out with us and to this he almost always says no. He’s got homework. The guys are waiting for him. He’s tired. You know, anything is better than spending time with his parents.

Recently, we’ve been asking him to go for short hikes with us or watch a movie. Heck, I even asked him to sit beside me and learn to knit. That I said knowing there was no way my 16-year-old son would knit. But in asking and showing Elliot my project, I had a few more moments with him.

I’ve also been calling him downstairs when I’m cooking dinner. I’ll place an onion and the chef’s knife on the counter and when he arrives, I