As the son of two deli owners, Robin Jean-Baptiste has food and entrepreneurship in his blood.
But it wasn’t until his second round at Howard Community College (HCC) that he realized his own potential.
“I actually didn’t want to go to college, just because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Originally, I enrolled at HCC as a computer science major. But after my first semester, I thought, ‘Oh no, I don’t like this.’”
Jean-Baptiste left HCC and spent the next two years working in area restaurants.
“I didn’t want to waste time or money doing something that I’m not passionate about,” he said. “But over time, working as a line cook in restaurants ignited a fire in me. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m actually decent at this.’”
He re-enrolled, this time in HCC’s Center for Hospitality and Culinary Studies, with a new motivation to learn. Jean-Baptiste thrived in food preparation classes. And even when classes fell outside of his comfort zone (he admits cake decorating is one of his weaknesses), he welcomed the challenge.
“When it comes to culinary, you always want to be outside of your comfort zone,” he said. “That way you can grow.”
Faculty and staff members quickly took notice.
Tim Banks, department chair, Center for Hospitality and Culinary Studies, hired Jean-Baptiste as the center’s purchasing inventory clerk. The position is funded as in internship by the BIC Educational Foundation. In that role, Jean-Baptiste processed all the center’s food orders as they arrived and then placed them in the storage room. Shortly after he started, Jean-Baptiste reorganized the entire room so it resembled a supermarket.
“For example, on one shelf, I would put all the spices together and below that would be all of the types of sugar,” he said. “Below that was bulk sugar and to the left of that was more international spices and ingredients… That way if a student said, ‘Oh Robin where’s this?’ I could say, as soon as you walk in, turn to the right and it’s the second shelf on the left.”
Jean-Baptiste’s academics and reputation as a hard-working visionary also earned him the BIC Educational Foundation Scholarship in 2019 and 2020.
“I really appreciate this scholarship,” he said. “It played a major role in me going back to school not only with a better mindset and drive but it also made finishing my education a reality without having the stress of paying for it ‘out of pocket’ and being in debt afterwards. For that alone, I am very grateful.”
This past spring, HCC also named Jean-Baptiste the Business and Computer Systems Student of the Year.
As he moves into his final days in the HCC culinary program, Jean-Baptiste said he’s thankful for the opportunity to learn from “so many incredible chefs.”
“I think the biggest reward from going back to school has been networking and just getting that hands-on experience,” he said. “Even though I’ve only been in the field a few years, through talking to different chefs, it feels like I got an extra two years of experience.”
Jean-Baptiste will earn two more certifications in baking and pastries and hospitality management this fall. Then, he plans to become a food entrepreneur by launching a private chef business and a food blog.
To follow Jean-Baptiste’s progress, visit www.populardelights.com.
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