Cooking up new skills: Kane County detainees take chef's class in jail kitchen

  • Former Kane County jail detainee Porfirio Roman-Ramirez, center, teaches current detainees Ronnie Martinez, left, Lamar Davidson and Dennis M. Woods about food preparation at the jail.

    Former Kane County jail detainee Porfirio Roman-Ramirez, center, teaches current detainees Ronnie Martinez, left, Lamar Davidson and Dennis M. Woods about food preparation at the jail. Shaw Media photo, Sandy Bressner

  • Kane County jail detainee Lamar Davidson mixes vegetables with olive oil and pesto to make roasted vegetables during a cooking class at the jail taught by former detainee Porfirio Roman-Ramirez.

    Kane County jail detainee Lamar Davidson mixes vegetables with olive oil and pesto to make roasted vegetables during a cooking class at the jail taught by former detainee Porfirio Roman-Ramirez. Shaw Media photo, Sandy Bressner

  • Former Kane County jail detainee Porfirio Roman-Ramirez, center, makes a pesto cause with current detainees Ronnie Martinez, left, and Lamar Davidson during a cooking class at the jail.

    Former Kane County jail detainee Porfirio Roman-Ramirez, center, makes a pesto cause with current detainees Ronnie Martinez, left, and Lamar Davidson during a cooking class at the jail. Shaw Media photo, Sandy Bressner

  • Kane County jail detainee Ronnie Martinez cleans vegetables during a cooking class taught by former detainee Porfirio Roman-Ramirez at the jail.

    Kane County jail detainee Ronnie Martinez cleans vegetables during a cooking class taught by former detainee Porfirio Roman-Ramirez at the jail. Shaw Media photo, Sandy Bressner

 
 
Updated 12/20/2021 6:05 PM

Holding a white-handled paring knife, chef Porfirio Roman-Ramirez showed his class of five how to cut bell peppers to the right size for roasting.

"Not too big, not too small," Roman-Ramirez said as he sliced the peppers into a colorful mound.

 

But this is not your usual cooking class.

For one, it's held in the Kane County jail kitchen, so there's only one knife.

And the students -- Todd Bedgood of Algonquin, Lamar Davidson of Aurora, Dennis M. Woods of St. Charles Township and Ronnie Martinez of Oswego -- are all detainees in the Kane County jail for nonviolent drug or alcohol offenses.

All went through the Recovery Pod, the jail section the sheriff has turned into an addiction treatment facility. Lighthouse Recovery of St. Charles provides the treatment, re-entry support and continued group counseling once detainees are released from custody.

And now they are learning a trade to assist them in getting jobs after their release.

Roman-Ramirez is an actual chef who was charged in 2019 with felony possession of cocaine with intent to deliver.

Sheriff Ron Hain said after Roman-Ramirez also went through the Recovery Pod, he was released on electronic monitoring in August. And he now works for the sheriff's office teaching the cooking classes.

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"I made a wrong decision," Roman-Ramirez said, as he chopped and sliced. "I got in trouble. I made a mistake, and now I'm starting over."

The class started Dec. 13 and meets twice a week for two hours. On this, the second class session, he showed his students not to waste any of the veggie ends, as they will be used to flavor gravy.

Woods collected the cut-off pieces and put them into pans.

Then Roman-Ramirez spooned most of a big jar of basil pesto into a bowl, adding thyme, rosemary, pine nuts and garlic. And he began whisking it with olive oil.

"You're going to make a pesto paste," he said.

Martinez took over the whisking, his wrist a blur as he swirled the pungent green pesto until it was smooth.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The veggies were spread out on a large tray and the pesto paste was stirred over all of them. Then the class learned how to make gravy.

While the students took turns stirring, Woods turned to Hain.

"What you did for us -- this is an inspiration," Woods said.

When the tray of roasted vegetables in pesto sauce came out of the oven, the chef, the students, nearby corrections officers and Hain all stepped up for a taste.

"Wow."

The chef-level class was a continuation of a food safety course Aramark did for detainees in June, Hain said.

"The ultimate goal is to open a restaurant out of the jail kitchen for the public to access," Hain said.

He envisions that the restaurant could be set up in the foyer of the sheriff's office that leads to the jail with round tables and white tablecloths that would fit about 40 people.

It would be offered only on a Friday or Saturday night once a month.

"My vision is to offer food prepared in the jail kitchen made by detainees at chef level," Hain said. "We may call it Inn Recovery."

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