Baker Kitchen cook Essence Derouen passed away this past Sunday, Mar. 19. According to ABC 13, she was an innocent bystander shot while sitting in her car, on her way home. The 21-year-old is survived by her 6-year-old son.
"I’m sure many of the staff took her as their sister or daughter. She was our friend and she was a treasure to Baker and Rice. We miss you already, Essence."
According to a Facebook post from Rice University Housing and Dining, the Baker College Kitchen closed on Monday, Mar. 20 to pay tribute to her memory.
For the past two years, Derouen worked with the Baker Kitchen team, having joined H&D as a culinary intern several years ago. According to a gofundme page set up to help raise funds for her funeral expenses, Derouen was pursuing a degree in the Culinary Arts.
“She was devoted to her work, never idle, always wanted to learn more, always strove for excellence,” the post said. “She was an outstanding team member and was dedicated to pursuing her education as a culinarian.”
The gofundme raised more than $6,800 of its $8000 goal within a day, with more than 130 donors contributing.
According to Ashton Duke, a Baker sophomore, she was one of the most positive people at Baker.
“As a welcome center tour guide, I gave tours to elementary school students and one of the best memories I have of her was the first time I walked by the servery on a tour and I had the kids say, ‘Hi Essence!’” Duke said. “She gave the biggest smile I had ever seen and she gave that same smile every time I saw her in the servery.”
Baker College Master Rosemary van der Werff said that the college will miss Derouen greatly.
“She was a ray of sunshine and always had a cheery smile and fun conversations with us all,” van der Werff said. “She loved Baker and greatly added to the family atmosphere that we have at this college. Our sincere condolences go out to her mother and family.”
Baker senior Sammy Soyebo said they were friends outside of Derouen’s work at Rice.
“She often would talk about her family, her son in particular, and the impact he’s had on her world,” Soyebo said. “She would go through hell and back for that child, not to mention working 10 hours at Rice, [over five] hours at another job at night. She was a Wonder Woman for her family, and set newer, higher standards for them.”
Kat Sofjan, a Baker senior, said Derouen went out of her way to look out for others.
“I have some allergies and she would always look at my plate and make sure I didn’t grab anything suspect,” Sofjan said. “I remember once she found out something had been mislabeled and she came into the commons to find me and tell me not to eat it.”
According to Sofjan, along with cooking, Derouen loved music.
“A few times I caught her writing lyrics during her down time and I got her to perform them for me,” Sofjan said. “Her freestyling skills rivaled her pastry making skills. Honestly this place just won’t be the same without her. She was a fantastic chef, community member, and friend. She was passionate, caring, creative, and someone who I truly looked forward to interacting with every day.”
Jones College senior Jackson Tyler said he and Will Rice College senior Evan Yoon formed a friendship with Derouen during her time working at Baker.
“I remember one day us ‘singing’ FKA Twigs to her and us all laughing about it,” Tyler said. “We always would go find Essence and say hi and talk and laugh for a bit. She always had a smile and brought light to our days. She was definitely a special person for Evan and I. ”
According to Wilma Jackson, who worked with Derouen at Baker, the staff had to go to grief counseling.
"She was the heart of the kitchen, [and] the heart is no longer beating at this time," Jackson. "People that I thought would never cry was crying."
Blessing Falade, a Baker senior, said Derouen often joked around with the other staff and that her laugher was always audible.
“When I think of Essence, her lively and radiant smile comes to mind,” Falade said. “Although I never had the pleasure of connecting with her on a deep level, our weekly exchange of pleasantries, which occasionally included discussion on our black natural hair, were a source of comfort and joy. I watched her engage with almost everyone with the same warm demeanor. I’m sure many of the staff took her as their sister or daughter. She was our friend and she was a treasure to Baker and Rice. We miss you already, Essence.”
The gofundme can be found here: https://www.gofundme.com/3j2wd34.
This article has been updated to correct the data of Derouen's death. Due to an editing error, it incorrectly stated that she passed away on Mar. 9.