Thomas credits what he learned in restaurant kitchens with helping him get through the tougher times.
“When you’re cooking, you don’t have time to think about how down in the dumps you are or what’s happening in your personal life, you just have to cook and make it all taste great — no matter what,” Thomas says. “I just focused on going back to work every day.”
“It is very hard to to find a good line cook like Lance nowadays,” says Trevor Rocco, the Black Cat’s executive chef, who first met Thomas four years ago, when they both cooked at Cook’s County, the late farm-to-table restaurant on Beverly Boulevard.
“Anybody can be taught to cook, but it’s the attitude and character that is also needed for the job that’s the problem,” says Rocco. “This has become really difficult to find because a lot of new cooks are just trying to find the quickest path to become a celebrity chef, or whatever, but aren’t willing to put in the time to know how to properly roast a chicken.”
Shortly after Thomas became homeless, Rocco noticed a difference and asked his cook what was going on. “He opened up to me and told me he didn’t have a place to live,” says Rocco. “I’ve been in that position too, and I know what that’s like. If worse came to worse, he could always crash at my couch.” Rocco found Thomas a temporary place to stay and made sure Thomas spent two days each week looking for a solid place to live.
“He wanted me to relax and progress, and I feel really grateful,” Thomas says of Rocco, knowing that in many ways he’s been more fortunate than most. He’s kept his job and his family — and he’s recently found an inexpensive apartment in Boyle Heights.
Sharing his new home with a roommate, Saucedo and her daughter, Thomas now begins his days by making breakfast for Alaia — who has also started to take an interest in cooking.
Thomas says being homeless was no excuse for him to not cook. “I always had a kitchen. If not at the restaurant, at a homie’s pad making pozole for family or on a hot plate in the street. There is always a way to cook.”