Tonii Hicks grew up in north Philadelphia with her two sisters and parents who had a water ice stand — Philadelphia’s version of Italian ice — that also sold pretzels, fish platters, chicken sandwiches and other straightforward food. She hadn’t planned on going into food as a career until she ended up at the Swenson Arts & Tech High School, which has vocational training including separate programs in baking and pastry as well as culinary.
She specialized in baking and pastry, but also made friends with the culinary arts teacher who encouraged her to join the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program, or C-CAP. Through that she got a scholarship to Drexel University where she studied food science.
Now with 10 years of cooking experience under her belt, having started at age 14, Hicks is working on plotting her own course in the restaurant world. After doing some pop-ups last year, and also being a fellow at the James Beard Foundation, which has a new program that fosters young chefs such as Hicks, she is about to spend a month with Philadelphia-based chef and restaurateur José Garces at his restaurant Volvér.
She’s also working to raise funds for a commissary kitchen in Philadelphia out of which she can do more catering and private chef work, as well as educate people in her community about cooking and eating more healthfully. She also educates young people about food and cooking through the Free Library of Philadelphia.
In early December she shared her vision for the future, including teaching people how to “glow from the inside out.”