By Hannah Belt
From 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. every weekday, Ralph Bustillos feeds East Los Angeles College staff and students as the one and only chef in the cafeteria.
Bustillos has worked as the chef at ELAC since 2017.
Bustillos is a legacy staff member here at ELAC, his father served as a chemical lab technician at ELAC for 35 years.
Bustillos quite literally grew up here on campus as he went to preschool at ELAC in 1989.
He came back to ELAC again, later on as a college student from 2002-2004.
After his final two years at ELAC as a student, he was able to transfer to LA Trade Tech.
When at 21 years of age, one man who believed in him and funded his culinary education changed his life.
“I always wanted to cook, but my parents wanted me to get an education,” Bustillos said.
Bustillos said a family friend warned his parents of the sneaking suspicion that Bustillos was seemingly being forced through school by the weight of his parents’ expectations of him.
A friend of the Bustillos family owned a restaurant and offered to personally show future ELAC chefs just how the culinary business is run, instead of the bleak future he predicted where Bustillos would never graduate from ELAC and drop out of college.
“He paid for me to go to culinary school,” Bustillos said.
The same man who was initially convinced that Bustillos lacked the will to get through school ended up supporting and funding him through it, forcing themselves to prove their initial beliefs wrong to themselves.
Bustillos said he almost didn’t finish school, but it was because of this financial help he was able to find the drive to.
Bustillos knew he wanted to be a chef because of how he grew up playing all kinds of different sports.
His dinners were spent at various snack shacks and drive-thrus spread between the multiple fields he and his brother and sister would all play at.
He acknowledges his parents’ contribution to making their childhood successful through this back–and–forth.
It was then that he knew that he enjoyed making food for people.
He is still involved in these sports in a sense, he is a coach even now.
Bustillos said one of the most fulfilling things about working at ELAC for him is seeing all of the former players he has coached and how they have grown.
The chef’s favorite meal to make for himself when he gets home after a long day of chef duties includes none other than cereal and peanut butter and jelly.
“When you work all day with food you don’t want to see food anymore,” Bustillos said.
His favorite thing on the menu to make is breakfast burritos.
Bustillos said his favorite part of the day is late at night when he has finally finished all the cooking and cleaning, when he has taken care of and put his mother with Alzheimer’s disease to sleep and laid out everything to be helpful to her tomorrow.
When she wakes up he will already be at work. The 30 minutes he gets to himself before finishing the day’s tasks and sleeping are his favorite minutes of the day.
Bustillos said he is proud to be able to sacrifice his time to his parents because of the way they did so for him.