Public Safety

Inmates’ Recipe for a Second Chance

Take one part learning new skills, add a dollop of determination, sprinkle in some hope and you have a recipe the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department hopes will lead to future employment for inmates at the Las Colinas Detention and Re-Entry Facility.

A select number of inmates get to work in the facility’s culinary arts program, which teaches them new skills that can help them land a job when they are released from jail – and prevent them from re-offending.

April Garcia has already completed the six-month program and is on her second stint – this time as a teacher’s assistant – helping others learn and serving as a role model and mentor for new inmates.

“I’ve improved my people skills and it’s built my confidence and self-esteem,” she said. “I’m teaching the other women in here to network and improve their people skills so it’s a great opportunity.”

Garcia’s background is in banking and finance, but said exploring the culinary arts gives her added skills that could help her achieve her dream of owning her own business one day.

The program teaches inmates cooking skills, menu planning, purchasing, human resources, food presentation and serving skills.

The program started in August 2014 through the Grossmont Adult School. Participants graduate with a Manage First Restaurant Management Certificate from the National Restaurant Association. A Manage First certificate lets businesses in the food and hospitality industry know that a person is ready to work from day one because they’re already trained.

One of the inmates in the Culinary Arts Program at Las Colinas preps some green onions for fresh salsa.

An inmate chops green onions for fresh salsa a part of the Las Colinas Culinary Arts program.

Cutting Cake

Inmates not only learn cooking skills, they are taught baking and cake decorating as well. The Culinary Arts program teaches them about the food industry from planning and preparation all the way to serving and presentation.

Culinary Arts program participants prepare all the meals that are served at the Missing Fork Cafe at Las Colinas. 








Participants in the Culinary Arts program at Las Colinas spend six-months learning new skills and are awarded a Manage First Restaurant Management Certificate from the National Restaurant Association upon completion.

A salad bar stocked with fresh vegetables and all the fixings is prepared by the inmates in the Culinary Arts program at Las Colinas. 








A salad bar with freshly cut vegetables, toppings and dressing is prepared every day in the Missing Fork Café, where inmates in the Culinary Arts program serve meals to facility staff.

Inmates learn presentation skills during their six months in the Culinary Arts program.









Inmates are taught presentation skills, such as this swan created out of a melon. “I used to only be able to do the basics, things like sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs,” said Faviola Pineda, a program participant.

Inmates who graduate from the Culinary Arts program earn a Manage First certificate from the National Restaurant Association that lets future employers know the person is trained and ready to work from day one.

“The best word to sum it all up is commitment,” said April Garcia. “If you want to follow it all the way through, you have to be willing to commit yourself to it.”

Inmates in the Las Colinas Culinary Arts program serve the facility's staff in a restaurant-like setting.

The Culinary Arts program at Las Colinas was started with the Grossmont Adult School in August 2014. Faviola Pineda waited about six months to get into the program. “This has helped me and now I’m confident to the point that I know once I get out I can look for a job in this field,” she said.

Classes in the Culinary Arts program at Las Colinas cover everything from planning and preparation to cooking, serving and sanitation.

The Culinary Arts program mimics a regular restaurant setting. Inmates work 10-hour shifts and plan, prepare and serve meals daily to Las Colinas facility staff.

An inmate carries a pan of brownies that were baked for today's lunch at the Missing Fork Cafe where they serve meals to the facility's staff.

An inmate carries a tray of brownies back to the shelf after she cut enough of them for today’s dessert tray.

An inmate prepares servings of fresh-made carrot cake. Inmates work 10-hour shifts as part of the Culinary Arts program at Las Colinas to help teach them professionalism and responsibility.

A Culinary Arts participant plates slices of fresh-made carrot cake for the serving line in the Missing Fork Café. One of the program participants, Faviola Pineda, says she hopes to open her restaurant one day. “I’m looking forward to going into the restaurant business,” she said. “One day, but I have to start off one day at a time.”

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact