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Budding Chef Channels Loss into a New Career

June 9, 2008

The loss of a child is every parent's worst nightmare. But thanks to the five-month continuing education culinary career training program at the Academy of Culinary Arts, from which she is about to receive her certification, Linda Beck has been able to get her life back on track.

The Little Egg Harbor resident, 55, lost her 31-year-old daughter, Jamie, last September due to a blood clot.

"She wasn't just my daughter, she was my best friend," said Beck, choking back tears during a pre-class chat at the Atlantic Cape Community College Mays Landing Campus cafeteria. "She had just moved in with her fiancé. She died in her sleep."

To compound her pain, Beck lost a job she had for 20 years in the coatroom at Trump Plaza two months before her daughter's death.

"The casino decided to eliminate the department," she explained. "So a bunch of us were let go. We loved it there. But this is going on all over; it's all about [companies] saving money."

Beck knew she had to do something to ease her pain, and survive.

"I thought I was going to be at that job forever," she said. "So I went to One-Stop Career Center [a state-operated job retraining program]. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I really like to cook, so I did this as a diversion. This has helped because I don't have time to sit at home and think."

Beck, who is widowed with two other children and grandchildren, got a new lease on life at the ACA.

"This was a great outlet for me," she admitted. "My classmates and teachers were very nice. I just said to them a few days ago, ‘I'm going to miss you all.'"

Beck has already been able to carve out a new career path. While still enrolled in the course, she landed a job at the food court of the new Costco in Manahawkin.

"I'm glad for that, although I miss the people I worked with at the casino. They were like sisters to me."

She admits that mid-life career changes are not easy.

"There are a lot of people out there who are going through this," she pointed out. "My son just lost his job, so he's going to take a test to become a police officer. He's only in his 30s, so it's easier for him. I'm 55; it's different."

Still, there are many people Beck's age who are in the same boat.

Her advice to them is: "You have to do something, so do it, and do what you love."

* The Academy of Culinary Arts awards ceremony will be held at 11 a.m., Wednesday, June 11, in Careme's Restaurant in Building M at ACCC's Mays Landing Campus, 5100 Black Horse Pike. For more information about the program, call (609) 343-4829, or visit