JCCA caught up with Roshon Martin, Pleasantville Cottage School alum and award-winning chef, to learn about his journey from a challenging childhood to a career filled with passion and purpose. You can follow Chef Roe’s culinary adventures on his Instagram page, @Chef_Roe.

I was born in 1970 in Harlem. My mom was a single parent working multiple jobs to make ends meet. I don’t blame her, but she just wasn’t there. I had behavioral issues both in and out of school. My grades were poor, I stayed out late, and naturally I found my way into the streets. I didn’t have a father or anybody else to look up to or tell me what to do. I think that took some pride away from me. Deep down I just wanted some attention, and since I didn’t get any at home I acted out to get it elsewhere. 

At age 13 I was sent to Pleasantville. My first thought was: wow, this is a big place. I made friends quickly and joined the basketball team. The truth is that I was relieved to be away from my home environment. My mom and I stayed in touch but I still had anger and bitterness about my life back home.

At PCS I took Ms. Joyner’s home economics class. I guess you could say it changed the course of my life. The first thing I learned to cook was an English muffin pizza. I picked things up quickly and became Ms. Joyner’s assistant. Ms. Joyner and her husband, Len, were two of the most fantastic people I’ve ever met. She was inspirational, gentle, warm, and kind––like a second mother to everyone. Before long other kids were asking me to cook for them. When I came home I would cook for my mom while she was at work. I just kept going from there. 

After graduating high school I left PCS and went on to college. I had a daughter at 23 and was fortunate to get a job with the US Postal Service. That made it easier to stay away from the destructive patterns that I’d seen so many people fall into where I came from. I worked for the Postal Service for 25 years, but on the side I was honing my craft in the kitchen, knowing that one day I’d make the leap to being a full-time chef. 

Now I have a catering business, do culinary consulting, and I’m waiting on a new restaurant to open. I’m doing what I love. There’s no other way. I’m proud to have had a vision and stuck with it. I hope to come back to Pleasantville someday soon to share what I’ve learned with young people going through the same things I once did.