Meet ICE LA’s Alumni Commencement Speaker: Jessica Alferos
From softball scholarship to Spago Sous Chef
Growing up in a Filipino-Italian family full of chefs meant ICE Los Angeles graduate Chef Jessica Alferos' world revolved around food.
"Everything's, you know, food, food, food. You know, 'Did you eat?,' 'Can I make you something?,' and at family gatherings everyone's bringing their own dish and [arguing about] who could be the best cook, who bought the best food, all that stuff,” Chef Jessica says. “And I was the first one in line getting food.”
By the time Chef Jessica was in high school, she spent most of her time and energy either training for softball or cooking while debating her future.
"I knew I didn't want to work a cubicle job, I wanted something that was always fun and exciting." "So it was being a cook or being a lawyer, arguing or eating for a living. I decided eating, so that was my starting point."
After accepting an academic and sports scholarship to Alabama A&M University, Chef Jessica graduated with a degree in business management and a clear vision that culinary school was going to be her next stop.
"The four-year degree was kind of like my backup plan in a sense," she says. "If this culinary thing didn't work out, I have something to fall back on. I had never worked in a kitchen before, so I didn't know what to expect except what I saw on TV — so I thought culinary school, ICE specifically, will help me get to where I need to go.”
Being in class at ICE’s Los Angeles campus was a revelation for Chef Jessica who, like many ICE students, had only ever cooked in a home kitchen before starting class.
"I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot of things while also making great memories," she recalls. "It was exciting to test things out, especially things you can't do at home. At school you have the tools and resources to do anything, and you have instructors there to help you, guide you.”
One benefit Chef Jessica was particularly appreciative of was the variety of experiences with the different Chef-Instructors that rotated through her classroom.
“I liked having several instructors to learn from. Different teachers have different ways of teaching things and different views on how to do this or that. It was really fun," Chef Jessica says. "I also learned a lot. I never knew what [different equipment] was called in a kitchen, so that was really helpful, and I got introduced to ingredients that I had never seen before, produce-wise, meat-wise, etc. So it gave me a really great foundation to start my journey."
That journey launched Chef Jessica straight from her kitchen classroom into the kitchens at Wolfgang Puck's lauded Spago in Beverly Hills as her ICE externship.
One Year In: ICE Alumna Jessica Alferos on Year One at Spago
In reflecting on what about her education at ICE helped her career the most, Chef Jessica doesn’t hesitate to say it was the support she received from ICE’s Career Services team in the search for her externship.
"I was really grateful to the externship process," she says. "They actually find a place for you, which was so helpful because l’ve always been so nervous when it comes to finding jobs, plus [the stress of] not having any experience at all. To have someone to back you up and say [to the restaurant] 'hey, here you go, this is a great person' was amazing. They helped me get to where I am."
While many ICE students get the opportunity to extern at some of Los Angeles and New York City’s top restaurants, few have climbed the ranks as fast as Chef Jessica. Hired on as a prep cook straight from her externship, Chef Jessica was quickly promoted to line cook and currently holds the position of Sous Chef, still at Spago.
Hear Chef Jessica's whole speech from ICE LA's 2023 commencement ceremony: