Celebrity chef vis­its OKC school

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NEWS -

The culi­nary arts class­room at Cen­ten­nial MidHigh was buzzing with ex­cite­ment and an­tic­i­pa­tion as the stu­dents walked in and re­al­ized that Chef Rick Bay­less was in their midst.

Bay­less was in Ok­la­homa City for in­duc­tion into the Foun­da­tion for Ok­la­homa City Pub­lic Schools’ Wall of Fame event and vis­ited Cen­ten­nial to spend time with Chef/In­struc­tor Car­rie Sny­der- Ren­fro’s class.

Sny­der-Ren­fro had ar­ranged items from the school’s food pantry and com­mu­nity gar­den and Chef Bay­less talked to the stu­dents about pre­par­ing meals from the in­gre­di­ents pro­vided.

Us­ing a strange com­bi­na­tion of in­gre­di­ents to come up with an award-win­ning meal is some­thing he is fa­mil­iar with through his years of par­tic­i­pat­ing in cook­ing com­pe­ti­tions, so he jumped right in. From his choices, he picked beef and bar­ley soup and mac­a­roni and cheese. He added some fresh pro­duce from the gar­den, sweet po­ta­toes and green beans.

He talked with the stu­dents about ways a va­ri­ety of fla­vors can be com­bined to cre­ate some­thing sa­vory and de­li­cious.

Chef Car­rie’s mes­sage to Chef Bay­less prior to his ar­rival was im­por­tant for him to un­der­stand. The ma­jor­ity of these stu­dents rely on the school food pantry to be able to eat at home. Food in­se­cu­rity is a way of life for them.

The com­mu­nity gar­den she built be­hind the school is a place where they learn, of­ten for the first time in their lives, what a va­ri­ety of veg­eta­bles and fruits look and taste like. She shared a story about when their first crop of straw­ber­ries came in and some of the stu­dents were afraid to eat them, hav­ing no knowl­edge that these sweet berries came from the ground.

De­spite the gen­er­a­tional poverty most of these stu­dents live with, these teen girls were just what you’d ex­pect from teen girls. Some were quiet, but most were en­er­getic, en­thu­si­as­tic and en­gaged.

Chef Bay­less spent time ask­ing each of them what their cur­rent fa­vorite was to eat and/ or cook. A few were shy to an­swer, but he pulled each of them into the con­ver­sa­tion and was gen­uinely in­ter­ested in what they had to say.

Chef Bay­less is a celebrity, but re­mem­bers where he came from. He grad­u­ated from North­west Classen High School and grew up around the bar­be­cue restau­rant his par­ents oper­ated.

He took a trip to Mex­ico when he was 14, though, and said that it im­me­di­ately felt like home. He com­bined that love of Mex­ico with his pas­sion for cook­ing and built a cook­ing em­pire around it, with seven restau­rant con­cepts as well as seven pub­lished cook books.

He was com­pletely com­fort­able in front of the cam­eras as he did me­dia in­ter­views and was just as com­fort­able ac­cept­ing his award in front of 400 guests at the Wall of Fame din­ner.

Cel­e­brat­ing celebri­ties is a great thing to do, and the Wall of Fame awards in­spire our stu­dents to dream big. What can’t be min­i­mized, though, are the teach­ers like Sny­derRen­fro who are in the class­room day in and day out. No glam­our and not nearly enough thanks. Just hard work and ded­i­ca­tion to the cause they be­lieve in. Our kids. Our Best In­vest­ment.

Mary Mélon Ok­la­homa City Pub­lic Schools Foun­da­tion

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