Celebrity chef sparks interest in science and cooking at the Out-of-Door Academy in Lakewood Ranch.
When The Out-of-Door Academy senior Mackenzie Grace walked into school Sept. 25, she had no clue a chef from the Food Network television show, “Cutthroat Kitchen,” would be roaming the hallways.
But at a morning assembly, she saw him — Chef Jet Tila, an American celebrity chef and restaurateur.
“I immediately recognized him from one of my favorite shows,” Mackenzie said. “I don’t cook, but I love watching how these chefs are able to be so creative with their craft.”
Although Mackenzie was somewhat intimidated by the thought of cooking, she left Tila’s morning presentation with a different mindset.
“It was cool that he had everything prepared. It made cooking look a lot simpler,” Mackenzie said. “It made me think that maybe, if I tried, that I could cook.”
And that’s the idea.
For the past three years, Chef Tila has partnered with FLIK Independent School Dining, a company that provides healthy menus to school children and their communities, to educate kindergarten through 12th-grade students about cooking.
“You have to understand how food works,” Tila said. “When kids start actually diving into the ingredients and understanding where their veggies come from — the farming, the agriculture — they start to appreciate food more that way.”
On Sept. 25, through FLIK’s Celebrity Chef Series, Chef Jet Tila came from Los Angeles to visit ODA’s Lakewood Ranch campus to present his culinary expertise in classes, assemblies and cooking demonstrations with students throughout the day.
This is the ODA’s second year partnering with FLIK, but the first time it has hosted a chef.
Tila, 42, said he only started working with students three years ago after he had children of his own.
Tila visited Joann Barrett and Stephanie Sassetti’s eighth-grade science class, where he enlightened students on the chemistry behind cooking food — how to successfully brown meat, proper temperatures for cooking specific foods, where to place the thermometer and more.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Sassetti said. “He was really down to earth, funny, enlightening. He said he didn’t have much food chemistry knowledge, but he knew a great deal.”
The ODA students loved having a celebrity chef around.
ODA senior Michael Gosnell learned to make Asian stir fry with his classmates. He took an interest in cooking this summer after reading a book that explained the science behind it. He has been cooking twice weekly at home.
“He showed us some simple techniques, which showed people that cooking is not a crazy, difficult thing to do,” Gosnell said.