Angela Byars Bright Smile and Dreams of Entrepreneurship Defy Life of Tragedy
From Career Focus Magazine-Jan. 2008
Inspiration for higher education comes in many forms. Some find it early in life. For others, the quest for a college degree comes later. Sometimes it’s motivation provided by a parent or friend but sometimes it’s like lightening out of the blue.
Take the case of West Hills College Lemoore culinary student Angela Byars, who is 21.
The beautiful smile that comes naturally to Angela and reflects her bubbly and very positive personality draws people to her. It made her the perfect model for the cover photo on this issue of Career Focus.
But if you engage her in conversation about her past, you find a difficult childhood marked by the tragic loss of both parents, parenthood to two young daughters and a high school independent study graduate who recently recovered from a bout of homelessness.
Angela developed an interest in cooking while she was in a home economics class at Huron High School but her education was sidetracked by the birth of her first child when she was 15. She enrolled in independent study in Riverdale and went to work in a security business that her parents started. Her father had died from complications of diabetes and heart disease when she was in junior high.
“Mom was trying to go to school at the same time to get her GED,” Angela says, “we did our school work together. I thought I would always have my mom there.”
But that was not to be. When Angela was 19, her mother was killed by a drunk driver in Fresno.
Angela tried to continue to run the security company but licensing issues prevented it and she soon found herself depressed, with financial problems and separated from the father of her second daughter.
“One day I was watching Larry the Cable Guy on t.v. and he said, “Do what you have to do, no matter what it takes—just ‘Git-R-Done,’” Angela says.
“I had collected West Hills' class schedules and thought about classes I wanted to take,” she said. Larry gave her the inspiration she needed to enroll in classes and the confidence to know that she has a bright future.
“I know now that I can do it. I’m going to have my own business,” she adds.
But before she’s ready for that business, Angela has about two years of classes in the culinary program at WHCL. Those classes cover subjects like culinary concepts, Safe Serve, food prep and baking.
But more than that, the culinary program has given Angela a new “family.”
“They support me and keep me going,” she says. “They are my family. They helped me find housing and Chef (Christian Raia) introduces me to new things and makes me want to do and learn more. The other students push me and I owe it to them to keep going and do things I didn’t think I could do.”
With help from financial aid, the Cal Works program and the support of friends, Angela is on track to, in the words of Larry the Cable Guy, “Git-R-Done.”
We Get to Eat What We Make!
From Career Focus Magazine-Jan. 2008
Jose Meza grew up on a “meat and potatoes” diet. His mom, he says, is a great cook who makes great carne asada and other Mexican specialties.
But Jose’s food repertoire has grown substantially during his three semesters in the culinary program at West Hills College Lemoore.
Born in Hanford, Jose has also lived in Lemoore and now lives in Stratford. He dreams of traveling to Paris to experience cuisine there.
In the mean time, he’s studying with Chef Christian Raia and making crème brule, pear flambé with Italian black cherries (the dessert featured in the cover photo of this Career Focus) and other delicacies normally featured at high end restaurants.
His interest in cooking started when he was 12, Jose says, when he wanted to help take some of the burden of meal preparation off his mother who is a seasonal worker at S&K foods and also works in the fields.
He dreamed of studying at the famed French cooking school Cordon Bleu.
During his first semester at West Hills, Jose heard his instructors talking about the culinary classes at West Hills and did some research.
“I heard they’re having the same training here at West Hills (as at Cordon Bleu) so I signed up for classes.”
With plans of spending two years in the West Hills’ program, Jose says he hopes to earn an AA degree and become a chef’s apprentice. “Then I was to travel and see what I can learn.”
Jose says he gives his mom wide berth in the kitchen. “She’s a good cook,” he says, but he claims to make killer salsa.
“I’ve introduced a whole new style of spices—garlic, cumin and paprika.”
For a meat and potatoes kind of guy, Jose says his favorite dish in the culinary program so far is the filet mignon. But the desserts are growing on him. He liked the Blueberry Pirouettes and his next ventures will be a Pink Lady Apple and Pear Cream with Orange Syrup and apple crisp.
So what’s the best part of the program according to Jose?
“We get to eat everything we make!”