Action News Jax Gets Real: Local head chef mentors those previously incarcerated or in trouble get back on a positive path

Jacksonville chef talks life after prison

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —

Donald Richardson Jr. is the executive chef at Barrique Kitchen and Wine Bar in Avondale.

On Tuesday Action News Jax watched as he whipped up a delicious plate of shrimp and grits.

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Richardson found his love of cooking at a young age.

For him it’s more like a hobby instead of a job where he’s learning new techniques and recipes each day.

“When I was a kid I liked playing basketball so now this is my basketball. I’m trying to be the Jordan of this game,” Richardson said.

Barrique doesn’t open until 3:00 p.m. but Chef Don is in here at 10:00 a.m. during the week and 9:00 a.m. on weekends preparing in advance for hours before the restaurant even opens.

But the road to get here wasn’t easy; Richardson’s past was rocky.

The west side Jacksonville native got mixed up with the wrong crowd and started selling drugs on the street.

“From age 15 I was really out in the streets doing things that I shouldn’t be doing,” Richardson said.

In 2009 Richardson went to prison for three years.

While he did the time the whole experience was eye-opening and he learned early on this wasn’t where he wanted to end up.

As a head chef at Barrique, Richardson is now helping dozens of others who have been incarcerated or gotten in trouble.

He’s even hired some of them, too.

“That’s like a main thing I try to do now is mentor guys going that I see going down the wrong path and let them know like look you don’t have to do this. Like I’ve been there done that. Look I did it so you wouldn’t have to,” he said.

Now Richardson is finishing up his culinary degree at FSCJ and in the future he’s hoping to put it to good use.

“I have friends that do catering and I have friends that have food trucks, but my ultimate goal is to have my own sit down restaurant,” Richardson said.