Before Robert Hesse became a chef, restaurateur and fan favorite on the wildly popular food challenge TV show “Hell’s Kitchen,” he was a troubled kid in St. Petersburg. Addicted to drugs, in and out of boys youth homes and frequently in court and behind bars, at 15 he was sent to Eckerd Academy in Brooksville to straighten his life out.
From the streets to the kitchen
As part of the program, once a week the boys were responsible for all the cooking for the day, which teaches them math and writing skills, responsibility and planning.
Hesse now tells people:
A camp counselor had handed him a potato and a peeler and asked, “Do you know what to do with that?”
“He said a lot of the same things we hear here, but it’s different coming from someone who’s been a camper — it means more, he talked about a lot of difficult things that I personally connected with — I’ve been in that spot; I’ve hit that bottom … it’s helpful to hear from someone else who’s been so low and was able to come so high again.”
She said Hesse’s story reinforced her determination to keep working toward her big-picture goal of helping girls who don’t have access to education to get an education.
Written by: Nancy Kennedy
Photos by: Matthew Beck