Skip to main content

GRCC culinary student refuses to let health, life challenges hold him back

March 12, 2024 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Daryl Mitz has a lot on his plate.

Alongside his studies in the Grand Rapids Community College Secchia Institute for Culinary Education, he also balances fatherhood, a full-time job at Vitale’s Restaurant in Comstock Park, and treatment for his chronic kidney disease.

“At first, I was afraid it was going to be a struggle, but I’m doing it,” he said. “I feel like, if I’m able to work through all this, I’m able to do anything.”

Food has been an important part of Mitz’ identity since he was very young, watching and learning from the women in his life, and he laughed as he recalled discovering his own culinary skills.

“It’s always been in my family; I kind of grew up cooking with my mom and my aunts,” he said. “Once I was able to make some really good ribs on the grill and my mom liked them, I knew I had it.”

But, after graduating from East Kentwood High School in 2008, he didn’t immediately pursue culinary education. Instead, he spent a brief stint in GRCC’s Business Management program before taking time off from school to raise his first child.

“I just wanted to be more present as a father while my kid was little,” he said.

It was during this time that Mitz began working in the restaurant industry, first in fast food management and then, eventually, in his current role as lead line cook at Vitale’s.

“It gets hectic sometimes, but it definitely gives me motivation,” he explained.

Though he has tried working in other industries, he feels that the kitchen is where he truly belongs.

“I worked in an office for a little bit,” Mitz said. “But I couldn’t handle not being as active.”

In 2022, however, he received a diagnosis that would seem to slow anyone down. His kidneys were failing, and he would need to be put on dialysis, though this would only be a temporary fix. A transplant would ultimately be in his future.

“I found out that I needed to go in for treatment three days a week for four hours at a time,” he said.

Even with these challenges, Mitz stubbornly refuses to be held back from achieving his dreams. Soon after receiving his diagnosis, he decided to re-enroll at GRCC, this time in the Culinary Arts program through the Secchia Institute.

“One of my aspirations is to become an executive chef,” he said. “I’d love to see what it’s like to run a kitchen myself,” he stated.

And he feels that GRCC is already preparing him well for the challenge.

“You learn all kinds of things like knife work, sauces, and things like that,” Mitz said. “I’ve been cooking for years, but the program has really helped elevate my skills.”

He added that he is grateful for the tuition assistance he has received through Michigan Reconnect as well. Michigan Reconnect is a scholarship program funded by the state that provides eligible Michiganders with free in-district tuition at a Michigan community college, helping them earn an associate degree or skill certificate.

Mitz is looking forward to an internship with a local food truck business this summer before graduating next spring. After that, the possibilities are endless.

“I want to tell my story of how GRCC has helped me in case there’s someone out there who’s doubting their ability to work and go to school,” Mitz said. “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”


This story was reported by Alissa Griffin.