COLORADO SPRINGS — A local chef and restaurant owner is helping bridge the gap for culinary specialists who are in the military.
Because El Paso County is such a big military town, Brother Luck, the chef-owner of Lucky Dumpling and Four by Brother Luck, wanted to give back to the military community. About two years ago, he began the "bridge the gap" program and has been able to mentor and teach about a dozen soldiers since then.
The program takes soldiers out of the army kitchen and gives them experience in a restaurant setting.
"Getting quicker, being more consistent, being able to fix things on my feet. That's what I want to learn from him," said Oscar Cardona, a 92 Gulf Culinary Specialist at Fort Carson. "Sometimes we cook for the entire brigade, and that can be up to 2,000 people, but generally it's usually 200 to 400 people."
Cardona is among the soldiers who go to the restaurant every week to learn from Luck.
"We actually transition them into the civilian world too, learn to what it feels like to be a chef if they decide to retire or step out of the military," said Luck. "It's really unique to be able to experience what they go through and transition it to what I go through."
For Luck, it's a chance to get to know an active-duty soldier and teach them more than just how to cook a meal.
"We also give them exposure to service, to bar-tending, to management, to financial, to understanding how to run a business," said Luck. "We give them references, education, and resources to be
successful in life."
This effort also hits close to home for Luck, because his brother was also a culinary specialist in the military.
"When he transitioned out of the military, he stumbled and I couldn't reach him. So I wanted to always make sure I'm giving that education, I'm giving that advice, I'm giving that mentor-ship to a soldier that hopefully can prevent them from struggling when they get out of the military," said Luck.
With hopes other soldiers don't struggle when they get out of the military, Luck says he is happy to give back to the local military community.
"Restaurants mean restore, to restore the community, and that's constantly what I'm thinking about," said Luck. "And one of the most important pieces to me is to ensure that we're part of our community, supporting our community."
"It's definitely helped me, and we all see the benefits of this program. Together, we all want what's best for our soldiers, and that includes feeding them to the best ability that we can," said Cardona, who also mentioned he'd like to work at a restaurant or open his own restaurant when we get out of the military.
The program is personalized depending on what soldier gets chosen to participate in. For example, Cardona will be competing in a national competition soon and is learning from Luck, who's competed in multiple national competitions himself.
Meanwhile, other soldiers do eventually want to open and run their own business when they get out of the military.
The culinary specialists work with Luck for 45 days.