James Overacker is a chef. His background includes fine dining and French cuisine. But his culinary training did not come from an institute. James is a Marine Corps veteran now serving the Campus Kitchen at Saint Louis University as a fellow with The Mission Continues.
James joined the Marine Corps in 1999 to turn his love for cooking into a career. He served for almost five years, which included tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he left the Marines, James moved to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, where he was the executive chef at an upscale restaurant for two and a half years. He then relocated to St. Louis, Mo., where he became head chef at Rue Lafayette. However, a resurgence of a spinal cord injury he sustained while serving in the Marines forced him to take some time away from the restaurant business.
But James couldn’t stay idle for long. He applied for a fellowship with The Mission Continues, a St. Louis-based organization that awards community service fellowships to post-9/11 veterans, empowering them to transform their own lives by serving others and directly impacting their communities. After he was accepted, he chose to serve his 26 week, 20 hour a week fellowship with the Campus Kitchen at Saint Louis University (CKSLU), where he is able to use his culinary training to combat hunger in his own community.
James began his service just last week, but has already made a positive impact on the food CKSLU serves. He has already done a meal delivery, where a client opened his meal and exclaimed, “Did you all get a new chef?” (James doesn’t take full credit for this, though, as CKSLU used a unique donation of lamb chops from a local Trader Joe’s in that particular meal.)
Not only will James spend many hours in the kitchen cooking, he will help CKSLU students expand their culinary repertoires and cooking skills over the next six months. He’ll likely impart a bit of French flair on the kitchen, as that was his most recent experience.
At the end of his six months with CKSLU, James hopes to have a sense of personal fulfillment: a sense that he used his skills to serve his own neighborhood (he lives steps away from Saint Louis University), just as he served his country through the Marine Corps.