How a Minister Survived Hurricane Irma and Enrolled at ICE
Culinary Arts student Devon Penn shares his career- and life-changing story.
On Sept. 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma hit the British Virgin Islands where Christian pastor Devon Penn had started a church the previous month. Around 12 p.m., Devon and his family weathered the 200 mph, Category 5 storm, which he believes was an answer to his prayers about attending the Institute of Culinary Education. Here’s how he made it to our New York campus through the chaos, saying "fortunately and unfortunately, Hurricane Irma put me in just the position for such a drastic change."
Many people do not know that I am a licensed and ordained Christian pastor and my first call to service is actually in my commitment to God and humanity. I am what is considered a bi-vocational minister; ministry is not my only sustaining form of income.
In August 2017, my wife and I were praying specifically for spiritual direction on what we would be doing next. I had begun the process of starting a church in the British Virgin Islands and wondered how we would financially sustain our family in the early years of this ministry. Along the way, I came across an Institute of Culinary Education video on YouTube and was immediately convinced that I was to attend the Culinary Arts program. The only problem was that I lived in the Caribbean and could not afford to abandon my obligations to my family, business and community. Convinced about attending ICE, but challenged by how it could happen under these circumstances, I prayed that God would make it apparently clear how it could work out — and that happened on Sept. 6 with Hurricane Irma.
On that life-changing day, the howling wind suddenly invaded our house and sent us racing from room to room as the windows and doors exploded, sending glass and debris everywhere. As we ran into our downstairs bathroom as a last possible place of refuge, I desperately struggled to hold the door shut against the wind’s incredible force. My wife and three children hunkered down in the bathtub and my eldest daughter prayed with a ferocity matching the violence of the storm as the water flooded in from under the door.
I can remember watching the roof tear at the seams as sunlight peeked in with every passing wind gust. All I could do was hope and pray that the roof, window and door would not give in on this little 5- by 11-foot bathroom while the eye of the storm sat over our house for what seemed to be an hour. As tears streamed down my face, I was paralyzed in one catatonic position, vacillating between the promises of my faith and the possibility that my entire family and I may die painfully in that moment.
The shredding of our house seemed to suddenly pass and we quickly sought refuge nearby with a family who housed us until we could evacuate the territory. Ten of us lived in a two-bedroom apartment without electricity, running water or bank access until we conceptualized a plan to sneak off the island in the shadows of the night, as mass looting and released prisoners resulted in a lock down with no departing flights.
We made our way back to New York City by way of Puerto Rico and had to start our lives over. Once again, I stumbled across an ICE video and I knew that if I was going to do something like culinary school at this point in my life, it would need to be accelerated courses, but I was not willing to compromise the quality of my instruction for the sake of a speedy graduation date. The comprehensive yet accelerated aspects of ICE's curriculum were the major selling points and this time, I called the number and made an appointment with the best admissions rep, Jock Grundy. Mr. Grundy empathized with my story and offered valuable advice on pursuing a career program and getting settled back into living in NYC after more than 20 years of being away.
I entered ICE’s Culinary Voice Scholarship Contest and was unsuccessful in the semifinals. With another loss, I was disappointed and discouraged. My private loans were denied after the circumstances of the hurricane destroyed my credit score. I had all but given up on trying to get into ICE when Mr. Grundy, who always kept in touch, called to see how I was doing and suggested an upcoming class start. I had lost all faith in attending, but when he called, I felt compelled to try one more time.
I called another ICE superstar, Student Financial Services Advisor Wendy Lopez, who always had patience and professionalism with me. She knew I was aggressively cleaning up my credit and said to try qualifying for my loan one more time. Long story short: I got in and called Mr. Grundy immediately to start class the following Tuesday.
My time at ICE has been incredible with instructors willing to go the extra mile to teach what is in the lesson modules and from their own wealth of knowledge. There are so many techniques that I am learning and perfecting, such as salting and its primal role in curing and cooking from Chef Proto, searing and sautéing by Chef Sabrina, stewing and braising with Chef Michael G., and deep frying with Chef Phillip. I am very intrigued with the modern techniques I have been learning from the director of culinary research and development, Chef Barry Tonkinson.
When I graduate, I will prayerfully resume my ministry endeavors and plan to incorporate my culinary training to create fundraisers for disaster relief throughout the Caribbean. I also seek to promote hospitality and culinary arts as a profession for young adults and at risk youths through lectures and demonstrations in primary and secondary schools.
I have ambitions to write a cookbook presenting comparative recipes from Caribbean cuisines, with traditional cultural dishes and modernist adaptations. With Chef Barry’s mentorship, I am re-conceptualizing my country’s national dish utilizing sous vide cooking, siphon foams and gel spherifications. Like the aforementioned instructors, Chef Barry has made his wealth of knowledge available to me and other similarly ambitious students to teach the greatest appreciation of all the various techniques available in this trade.
My journey to ICE is different from many other students and I find myself not speaking about it much until now. I believe that with the skills I am picking up here, my culinary voice will be loud enough in the years to come as I continue to help those in need.
Find your culinary voice in an ICE career program.