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National Culinary Arts Month: Chefs at Evolve

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

At Evolve, each of our residential treatment centers has an in-house chef on staff. Our chefs are an integral part of the treatment team, preparing three nutritious and delicious meals a day for our teen clients, leading Cooking Labs, and modeling the importance of healthy, balanced eating.

In honor of National Culinary Arts Month this July, we want to give the spotlight to some of our beloved, enthusiastic, and talented culinary professionals.

Chef Raymond Davila

Evolve Aura

How did you get started as a chef?

My aunt was a baker and cake decorator. The first time I watched her decorate a cake, I was amazed. I was about 12 at the time. From that point on, instead of playing video games or basketball with my cousins at their house, I found myself stuck in the kitchen.

After many instances of watching her bake and decorate cakes, I asked my father to buy me a box cake. The mix was already prepared, all I needed to do was add water, oil, and eggs. The cake was baked, I was very proud of myself, and I spent the next 3 to 4 years baking cookies, brownies, loafs, and more cakes. I then discovered the Food Network Channel, which I spent hours watching after school while I did my homework. I was 17, and started practicing my cooking skills at home for family and friends. When high school graduation approached, we went on a school college-scouting trip. That’s when I realized I wasn’t interested in anything out there—and knew I wanted to be a chef.

What do you serve for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

Here at Aura, I do a somewhat of a continental style breakfast for the clients: fruit, oatmeal, yogurt, bagels, toast, and cereal. Clients can prepare their own breakfast with associated condiments to help teach them some independence.

For lunch, I like to serve meals that are somewhat light yet filling, such as sandwiches, wraps, and salads. I always accompany each sandwich and wrap with a side option such as cut fruit, a side salad, and at times, baked sweet potato fries. Dinner is more of a restaurant-style experience here at Aura. I find pleasure in providing our clients with a 5-star experience based on the food I cook and its presentation. Seeing the smiles on their faces, hearing them say “Whoa, it looks so fancy!” brings joy to my soul. As a chef, it’s such a warm feeling to know you’re giving someone a good experience through your food.

What dishes are you most proud of making at Evolve?

I’m a huge fan of all sorts of sandwiches, and I absolutely love a great pasta dish. One particular sandwich here at Aura is everyone’s favorite – the Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich. I’ve made this sandwich many times because staff and clients always ask me to bring it back. It’s based on a hot-chicken sandwich recipe, which I absolutely fell in love with, from an old restaurant called Howlin’ Rays. Simple foods that you take your time to perfect – and taste absolutely amazing — are so rewarding.

Dragon Rolls for Sushi NightChia Seed Breakfast BowlsSpicy Chicken SandwichChicken Pozole
What is your favorite culinary tool?

The mandoline, hands down. This beautifully designed piece of equipment does so much in so little time and with such accuracy.

What’s your favorite ingredient?

SALT! Salt brings life to almost everything you cook. Even sweet desserts!

What’s your favorite restaurant?

I love pasta. Growing up, I always enjoyed going to The Macaroni Grill in Northridge. Dining in, I noticed they had an open kitchen. I watched the chefs do their thing and make all that great food. I remember telling myself, “Man, I wish I could work here one day.” Years later, I actually landed a job with them and loved it! Throw your hopes and dreams out there and watch them manifest.

If you could dine anywhere in the world, where would it be? With whom?

If I could dine anywhere in the world, it would be in Italy, on a small boat, drifting down the gondolas in Sicily, eating a bowl of pasta with the gentleman gondolier.

What do you like best about Evolve?

What I love most about Evolve is the fact that they have private chefs, and gave me the opportunity to become one of their chefs here at Aura! All the staff are amazing. Everyone is very welcoming and kind.

Chef Ken Yacharn

Evolve Woodland Hills

How did you get started as a chef?

My parents owned a restaurant growing up, and I was always interested in helping. It wasn’t until I moved to San Diego and was applying to several jobs in the restaurant industry when I realized that a major requirement was a culinary degree. I then decided to move back to Los Angeles to pursue a degree in culinary arts and business management. After working in several restaurants, I found my love in catering. A bulk of my experience came from in-flight catering for private aviation.

What do you serve for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

I love breakfast food. My go-to that I love making (and eating) is a smoked salmon Benedict with poached eggs, shaved pickled onions, blistered cherry tomatoes, capers, and a dill lemon hollandaise sauce over a toasted English muffin.

For lunch, I love a piled-high pastrami Reuben sandwich on rye with a potato salad.

My go-to dinner item is braised short ribs with creamy mashed potatoes and roasted baby vegetables.

What dishes are you most proud of making at Evolve?

I love having clients experiencing and trying new things. Below are a few items I’ve made that our clients loved.

Buttered gnocchi with fire roasted tomato and chorizo cream sauce with sun-dried tomatoes, crispy bacon and shaved parmesanQuinoa salad with raspberry vinaigrette, butternut squash puree, roasted chicken, and a savory coral tuilePoke sushi bowl with seasoned sushi rice, cucumber, pickled ginger, avocado, crispy red onions, crab salad, ahi tuna, sesame soy ponzu sauce, edamame, and furikake
What is your favorite culinary tool?

My favorite culinary tool is an icing spatula that I use regularly to plate vegetables and proteins with more precision, spreads for sandwiches and decorate dishes.

What’s your favorite ingredient?

I personally love and am obsessed with truffle-anything, and I use it every chance I get at home. I literally use it on everything.

What’s your favorite restaurant?

One of my favorite restaurants is Mastro’s Ocean Club in Malibu. Not only is their food yummy, the restaurant is next to the ocean, and they have (in my opinion) the best calamari I’ve ever had, hands down.

What do you like best about Evolve?

It wasn’t until I started cooking at Evolve, seeing clients’ reactions, and hearing good things about the food or how much it reminded them of home that I realized how gratifying and meaningful it is to cook in a residential treatment center. Being here has made me appreciate a different perspective on food, both on a professional and personal level.

Chef Rodrigo Vasquez

Evolve Lafayette

Please tell us about your background. Where are you from and how did you start cooking?

I was born and raised in León, Spain. Growing up, my father was my first mentor in the kitchen. I learned my love and passion for food from him. Living in the country made me appreciate the value of fresh ingredients. My mother cultivated a lot of different vegetables…the garden was our market!

I went to culinary school in Spain, majoring in Catering Management, while I worked in a family restaurant in the Costa Brava. I opened El Bulli, a 3-Michelin Star restaurant, awarded as the best in the world at that time. Soon after that, I traveled around the country gaining knowledge and experience, from small restaurants in the north to beautiful hotels in the south. My trajectory eventually brought me to the United States, where I began working as an Executive Chef in the Bay Area, and joined the team at The Culinary Institute of America.

What do you serve for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

​For breakfast: bagels, breakfast burritos, Acai bowls, avocado toast, homemade cake, waffles, crepes, and more.

For lunch, the most popular items are Pasta Carbonara, Broken Eggs (Spanish Tapa), fresh salads, pulled pork sandwiches, butter chicken, paella…you name it, I make it!

Dinner is more fun: homemade pizzas, a lot of fish, quesadillas, taco on Tuesday, Spanish omelets, ramen, lasagna…I can spend all day talking about the different options.

What dishes are you most proud of making at Evolve?

Believe or not, Chicken-and-Waffles! One of our clients requested it and it was my first time making it. I surprised myself!

Other dishes that I am proud of include salmon with orange, ginger and almonds, paella, and butter chicken.

Scallop carpaccio with strawberriesMini tartsNoodle Paella
What’s your favorite culinary tool?

The Chef’s Knife.

What’s your favorite ingredient?

That’s a hard one! I’ll go with extra virgin olive oil.

What’s your favorite restaurant?

One of my top restaurants is in Barcelona, it’s called “Disfrutar,” which means “enjoy.”

If you could dine anywhere in the world, where would it be? Who would it be with?

If I could go anywhere, I’d probably go to Japan and learn from their culture and cuisine. I would take my husband and my mom with me.

What do you like best about Evolve?

Being able to give back! The impact of this program on the clients is huge. It is beautiful to watch and be able to participate in this experience, knowing that a little part of your knowledge and charisma goes back home with them when they leave.

Great Food and Plenty For Everyone

All our expert chefs accommodate food allergies and dietary restrictions, including kosher, gluten-free, vegetarian, halal, vegan, and more. They go above and beyond to help our teens feel comfortable and at home.

Read more about our amazing chefs here.

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