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Chef Keith Corbin talks overcoming harsh environment


ALTA in West Adams District

Chef Keith Corbin of the popular West Adams restaurant ALTA spoke recently to Our Weekly about his upbringing, cooking, and becoming a role model in his community.

Question: Growing up, what was your mindset? What did you envision for yourself during your teenage years?

Answer: “Growing up, I didn’t have a clear vision for myself during my teenage years. I didn’t have any positive role models to look up to, and unfortunately, the only examples I saw around me were gangsters, hustlers, and drug dealers. It was a challenging environment to grow up in; where dreams and aspirations were often overshadowed.”

Q: Once in prison, when did your character change? What sparked the change other than being incarcerated?

A: “During my third prison sentence, my journey towards self-transformation began. It wasn’t the prison itself that sparked this change, but rather the tragic death of my cousin Branden and the stories of terminal destruction and violence that people shared with my daughter about me. These events made me realize the dire consequences of my actions and the impact on those I loved. It was the wake-up that pushed me to reflect on my life choices and strive for personal growth and redemption. Prison became a catalyst for change, a place where I could confront my past mistakes and work towards new goals.”

Q: What was your mindset once being released? What was the adjustment period like for you? 

A: “Once I was released, my mindset was a mix of fear and uncertainty. Adjusting to life outside of prison was a daunting task, especially since I had never held a job before. It was disheartening to see my peers with possessions I felt I deserved but couldn’t afford. Coming home to find some of my closest friends either dead or still incarcerated was heartbreaking. 

One of the biggest challenges during the adjustment period was finding employment with a conviction on my record. The stigma attached to it made it incredibly difficult to navigate through job applications and interviews. 

“Additionally, I had to battle my drug addiction, which was a constant struggle. Overcoming the urge to use again was a daily battle that required immense strength and determination. On top of everything, I had to reintroduce myself to my children. It was both exciting and nerve-wracking, as I wanted to make up for lost time and establish a meaningful connection with them. 

“Overall, the adjustment period was a rollercoaster of emotions. It was scary, challenging, and at times overwhelming. However, I remained resilient and focused on rebuilding my life and making the most out of my opportunities.” 

Q: Learning to cook, opening Atla, and writing California Soul, what was your environment and mental space like during these moments?

A: “During the moments of learning to cook, opening Alta, and writing California Soul, my environment and mental space were quite unstable and dangerous. It felt like a cloud of uncertainty was hanging over me, and I often felt insecure and trapped. There were moments when I felt victimized by the challenges and obstacles I faced. 

However, amidst the chaos, there were glimpses of positivity. I felt a sense of pride in my accomplishments and excitement for the new opportunities that lay ahead. There were moments of relief when I overcame hurdles and moments of hope for a brighter future. 

Yet, there was also a hint of guilt that lingered within me. Perhaps it stemmed from the fear of failure or the pressure to succeed. Despite the challenges, I pushed through, navigating the unstable environment and the conflicting emotions that accompanied it.” 

Q: How has being a chef kept you on the straight and narrow?

A: “Being a chef is a demanding profession that requires discipline, focus, and attention to detail. The structure and routine involved in working as a chef helped me stay focused and committed to my work, which contributed to staying on a straight and narrow path. Additionally, the satisfaction of creating delicious dishes for others brings fulfillment and a sense of purpose, which also helps.” 

Q: Being a figure in your community and leading the youth, what does it mean to you and the ones you impact? 

A: “Being a figure in my community and leading the youth means everything to me. It is an opportunity to make a positive impact and inspire others to reach their full potential. I strive to be a role model, providing guidance and support to the younger generation. By changing my narrative and legacy, I hope to show them they can overcome obstacles and achieve great things. I believe in the power of community and aim to teach the importance of unity and collaboration. Ultimately, my goal is to empower the youth, helping them become confident and compassionate.” 

Q: What was the importance of receiving your Certificate of Rehabilitation?

A: “The importance of receiving your Certificate of Rehabilitation cannot be overstated. It validates your efforts towards rehabilitation but also provides tangible evidence of your transformation to potential employers, licensing agencies, and society as a whole. This certificate acts as a powerful tool in breaking down barriers that may hinder your reintegration into society and offers opportunities for a fresh start. It signifies that you have successfully completed all necessary requirements and can now be seen as a law-abiding citizen deserving of a second chance. The letters of support that often accompany the certificate further reinforce the positive changes you have made, providing reassurance to those who may have doubts. Overall, the Certificate of Rehabilitation is a significant milestone that recognizes your personal growth, opens doors to new possibilities, and helps restore your rights and reputation.” 

Q: What is your hope for your community, for the youth, what changes are you hoping to see/make? 

A: “My hope for my community, especially for the youth, is to see a strong sense of unity and support. I envision a community where people with common interests, goals, or characteristics come together to interact, collaborate, and uplift each other. By fostering a sense of belonging, we can create a positive environment for everyone.

“One change I am hoping to make is to address the issue of food insecurity in our community. No one should go hungry, especially our youth. I aim to work towards implementing sustainable solutions such as community gardens, food drives, and partnerships with local organizations to ensure everyone has access to nutritious meals. 

“Additionally, I want to create opportunities for entrepreneurs within the community. Encouraging and supporting local businesses can lead to economic growth and job creation. By providing resources, mentorship, and networking opportunities, we can empower aspiring entrepreneurs to succeed and contribute to the overall prosperity of our community. 

Together, by fostering unity, addressing food insecurity, and supporting entrepreneurship, we can create a thriving community that benefits everyone, especially our youth.”