Dan Tiffany’s Recipe for Life

Dan Tiffany grew up in a supportive suburban family, graduated from college, and had a wife and beautiful daughter. In some respects, it seemed that he had it all. But as he says, “I let alcohol take priority. I reached the point where I could not get out of bed without a couple of drinks to get my day started. Eventually I lost my marriage, nearly lost my daughter, and destroyed my career.”

After one episode of going without sleep for two-and-a-half days while trembling and hallucinating, Dan managed to steady his hands long enough to text his estranged girlfriend and ask for “a Gatorade and a ride to the E.R.”

Weeks later, at a county-run recovery center, a counselor named Omar asked Dan about his job prospects once he left the program. The answer? “None,” Dan said. “I’d been fired from multiple jobs, and my resume was shot. Any money? No. Someone to stay with? No. My family and friends loved me enough to say, ‘You have to do this on your own this time.’”

Omar told Dan about FareStart, one of the social enterprises in REDF’s national portfolio, that helps people facing homelessness, joblessness, addiction, and other employment barriers transform their lives. By teaching them how to cook and work in kitchens while incorporating life skills as an integral part of the program, FareStart helps participants reach their potential.  “With no money, no place to stay, and no job prospects,” Dan remembers, “I was suddenly very interested in the bed, food, and structure FareStart would provide while training me to become a cook. I had no other options.”

Dan did well in the FareStart program, and in his cooking job afterward. In two years, he says, “I went from being hired to make four salads to becoming Sous Chef at the very same establishment.” What’s more, he got his life back on track. “My estranged girlfriend, Keli, the same person who drove me to the E.R., eventually married me. I have partial custody of my daughter, Lola, and our relationship has never been better.”

A chance meeting led Dan back to FareStart. He calls it “a gift hidden in a tragedy.” Lucas was a friend of Dan’s who worked at FareStart as a Chef Instructor. He passed away unexpectedly, and at the memorial service for his friend, Dan recalled being particularly touched by the stories of students, co-workers, and friends who shared how important Lucas was to them. “The theme among all their speeches was how passionate Lucas was about helping people overcome their challenges. His impact was profound.”

After the ceremony, Dan began to reflect on whether his own story could also help others. About five-and-half years after he graduated from the program, Dan came full circle and accepted a job to work at FareStart as a Chef Trainer.

Back at FareStart, Dan remembered that he had learned something important while making pizzas with Lucas. “Anyone who has been through something can help another person through something else. I soon discovered that many FareStart students had suffered problems more extreme than I had. I wondered if they would relate to my story.”

He didn’t need to wonder. Each year FareStart graduates approximately 250 students. The people Dan has taught have gone on to fine dining, others straight into line cooking. Many go into prep work and stewarding at various restaurants and other food establishments. Others find work in corporate dining. Dan is proud of them all, noting particularly “a couple students who are already leads and sous chefs at the jobs they started after they graduated.”

Dan’s been back at FareStart for a little over a year now, and just got promoted to Adult Culinary Program Supervisor, where he oversees the team he once trained. Dan no longer works the line. “As a Trainer,” he says, “I am more centered on classroom activities, skills assessments, and collaboration with what happens outside of the kitchen. I find enormous purpose when I come to work as a Chef Trainer each day, just as Lucas had done before me.”

Still, Dan loves to cook, and jumps at the chance to cook for his students. “The other day I cooked a massive amount of Stromboli. I thought we’d have leftovers for days, but they ate it all! How can you not love that?”