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From Navy quartermaster to professional chef

Warren HolifieldWarren Holifield was 8 when he began cooking alongside his grandma, Madge Frye, in his hometown in Putnam County, Fla.

“My grandma was a real family person, and she taught me the basics of cooking a five-course dinner,” he said. “She was always doing nice things for family and making food for everyone. We did a lot of fish, seafood, spaghetti and lasagna.”

After a 20-year career as a quartermaster in the U.S. Navy, Holifield was preparing for a second career at Tidewater Community College, studying Computer-Aided Drafting and Design and planning to work with a local shipyard. “The job fell through, so I was at a crossroads again,” he said. “It was then that I decided to do what I’ve always wanted to do – become a professional chef.

“I looked at one of the larger for-profit culinary schools, but I couldn’t fathom paying that much for a two-year culinary degree,” Holifield said. “TCC’s program is accredited by ACF (American Culinary Federation) and offered the same education for a fraction of the cost.”

This May, Holifield graduates with an Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts. He is graduating debt free after using his GI Bill benefits to pay for his education.​

“My time here has been a blast,” he said. “I earned my GED and never looked back. Now I see how much I enjoy learning, and I never plan to give it up. Right now, I’m also working to learn Italian and Spanish, and trying to pick up some Russian from the people I work with.”

Holifield landed a position as a cold chef while completing the program’s required 240-hour internship at Primo Pizzeria & Italian Ristorante in Virginia Beach. “I love the work. We start the day going to Restaurant Depot and picking up fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables. With our finds, we create the specials for the daily menu.”

Holifield says he works long hours, but enjoys everything about his new career. “I have a good boss and work with a good team. I look forward to getting up and going to work every day.

“At Primo, my favorite dishes are Hearts of Romaine, Shrimp Diablo and a Branzino fish dish. At home, I’m known for my smoked brisket, ribs and macaroni and cheese, as well as my bacon-wrapped asparagus.”

TCC is a family affair for the Holifields, with Warren’s wife, Robin, studying accounting and his daughter, Kelly, working toward a degree in administrative support technology. His older daughter, Darcie, works with her dad at Primo.

“I came to TCC to learn proper knife cuts and to be able to prepare sauces – everything from barbecue to Alfredo – from scratch. In the TCC kitchens you learn from professionals and gain skills that give you an edge on the job. You also work as part of a team to ensure that everything runs smoothly in the kitchen – even if that means washing some dishes!”

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