We cannot begin to understand what it is like for our friends and loved ones when they come home from war. We only know that it can be hard for them to find their place in the world again. Ronald Reeves is just one of many who struggled to find his path again but what makes him stand out is his drive to take back his life and his ability to use his passion for food to do it. After serving in the front lines of Iraq, Ron felt disconnected from his family and friends. He returned home with severe PTSD and struggled to "put the pieces of the puzzle back together". Ron was in a homeless shelter for veterans when he came across an ad for a free cooking course with DC Central Kitchen. He recalled the joy he found cooking with his grandparents as a child and a chef he used to watch on TV "I can't remember his name," said Ron. "But he was from Louisiana and he used to cook with wine, and he'd help himself to a little as he cooked. I liked his swagger." He decided to sign up and see where his passion would take him.
That ended up being one of his best decisions of his life. While at DC Central Kitchen, Ron went to restaurants all over DC and Maryland asking if he could work for free so that he could hone his skills. "Those restaurants became my classroom, and I learned all I could there" said Ron. His first paid job after graduating the course was personal Chef to the Bishops of the Catholic Church at the Washington DC Catholic University and the head executives at Fannie Mae. From there Ron found himself cooking for professional athletes, heads of state, congressman, and even Cirque Du Solei. All the while he dreamed of starting his own catering company.
Ron began searching for an affordable program that would help him learn the business end of building and running a company. He had learned of Street Entrepreneurs while at DC Central Kitchen and began attending the workshops. Being able to talk with business and marketing mentors has helped him learn create business plans and utilize social media to promote his business venture. Exchanging ideas with Street Entrepreneurs' CEO Juliana has been a huge confidence boost for Ron. Having someone who can translate business jargon into layman's terms has helped him recognize he's on the right path.
Currently, Ron runs JamRock, a fusion food concept that blends southern comfort food with island tastes. The name comes from people Ron's known throughout his life. Ron's grandparents are from Rocky Mountain, and North Carolina were he first fell in love with cooking. He remembers cooking with them and watching as his grandma and great-grandma "whipped up what seemed like magical" southern food. "I never saw them use any measurements, they just seemed to know how much was needed, and it always came out perfect. The island side I don't want to admit it, but it came from an ex-girlfriend." Ron chuckled. "She was from Jamaica and helped me become more creative with my cooking."
Ron embarrasses challenges, hard-to-please customers are one of Ron's favorite parts of cooking. "I never worry about the person who tells me 'It was great!' (though I'm appreciative) it's the person who says, 'It was just okay'. I take that to heart and they become my challenge. How can I rework this meal where you're saying, 'Oh chef, this was perfect!' I want to make sure I give them the best service they can receive."
Another challenge for Ron is his PTSD which he deals with every day, even in the kitchen. "It never goes away but with the right tools in place you learn to live with it. It's a perception reversal. You have to be open and honest with yourself and your co-workers about what it is you’re dealing with." A kitchen is an atmosphere full of sudden sounds that remind him of Iraq. For Ron, communication with his co-workers and certain brain exercises help him stay grounded in his environment. "For me cooking is like being an artist. I walk into a kitchen and see a blank plate: that's my palette. In my mind I'm already starting to see the colors and the contrasts."
Ron is beginning to transition into running his business full time, and he wants to connect cooking to his number one concern: giving back to veterans. Ron is working on a new cooking show called FamilyMeal, where he invites veterans, servicemembers and their families to his home to help put together a menu for a five-star meal and discuss how PTSD has affected them and the ways they handle it in their everyday lives. "I want to give to other veterans what I gained when I started cooking: confidence." He said "Knowing that you can do whatever you set out to do. We already have the skill set for it. We just need that little confidence booster to help us get over that bump in the road. Cooking helped me better communicate to my family and friends what it was I was going through." For anyone who wants to be involved in this cooking show or have Ron cater an event, the best way to contact him is through his email [email protected] or on his Instagram at @TheChefRonShow.