By Sarah Garcia - September 21, 2020
In college, Andres Torres jumped from one major to the next, unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. He began experimenting with cooking after he was given the 90s recipe book “Charlie Trotter's Vegetables” by a friend.
“Trying out the recipes, I was in awe of what food could be and I realized I had a knack for it [cooking],” Torres said. “I was pretty good at it and really enjoyed it.
He felt like he finally knew what he wanted to do with his life. After consulting with a family friend who was a chef, Torres decided to dive in to the hard-work hierarchy of restaurant life.
“I started washing dishes at On Swann in Hyde Park, working my way through the entire kitchen,” he said. “I was everything short of being a sous chef there. I loved every second of it and I wanted more.”
Torres ended up in the kitchen of CENA, a local restaurant focused on serving up modern Italian cuisine. “I got the opportunity to work there under Chef Michael Buttacavoli, and that’s kind of where I fell in love with cooking Italian food.”
One year after starting at CENA – a month before his 25th birthday – Torres received life-altering news: he had cancer.
After visiting the emergency room at Tampa General Hospital for a suspicious lump in his neck, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“It was a shock. Just hours after arriving, they were already talking about chemotherapy and different regimens,” Torres said. Up until then, he and his family thought the lump was just a benign cyst.
Since his diagnosis in April 2019, Torres has been through what he calls a ‘roller coaster’ of obstacles. He’s been through three different chemo regimens, two relapses and a bone marrow transplant. A biopsy after his last relapse revealed that he not only has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but also acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.
Two blood cancers and a rigorous treatment regimen has left him with an extremely fragile immune system. Because of this, he has been unable to work in the restaurant setting for over a year.
This summer, Torres’s sister, mom and girlfriend sparked an idea to get him back to pursuing his passion, safely at home. Together, they created The Forking Chef, a small at-home business that allows Torres to continue cooking while he undergoes cancer treatment.
“Cooking keeps me active, and I love it, so I really wanted to share that with others. Italian cuisine has occupied most of my culinary career, so pasta was a natural choice.”
Torres begins working on Thursday or Friday of each week preparing fresh, handmade pasta along with sauces and weekly specials, and is usually done with all of his orders by Sunday evening.
“We sold out immediately the first week, and have just kept growing since,” he said. “I’m making 30 to 40 kits and we’ve sold out every week.”
Torres credits his sister, mom and girlfriend for nudging him to pursue this and getting everything set up. He says it’s meant the world to him.
“All I had to do was start cooking, and everything came together. It’s been really fun and has given me a purpose. Going through treatment, you know, I just sit around the house all day.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, he says, there’s even more for him to worry about as a cancer patient. “I have to be careful. This supports my passion and also provides some income while I’m unable to work.”
And though business is good for The Forking Chef, Torres has some other positive news on the horizon. He is in remission again and is in the process of preparing to move forward with a stem cell transplant from his sister.
“Hopefully, with my sister’s cells, we’ll knock this out of the park.”