Helms College recently had the honor of partnering with Jay’s HOPE Foundation to fulfill 10½-year-old Deven Jackson’s dream to be a chef. Deven, a native of Jones County, has been battling a brain tumor caused by a disease called histiocytosis since February 2013, but that has never stopped his dream of becoming a chef when he grows up.
Deven and his family were invited to Edgar’s Bistro in Macon, GA, a student-run restaurant within Helms College, where he was transformed into a chef for the afternoon. His experience included working side-by-side with one of Helms College’s chef instructors in a wall-to-wall stainless steel commercial kitchen during a 2-hour “Restaurant Techniques” class where he learned to cook like a professional chef, plated his creations and then served it to his special guests.
After meeting Helms College chef instructor, Stuart Hardy, Deven was fitted for his very own Polly Long Denton School of Hospitality white chef’s coat. Chef-for-A-Day Deven Jackson was now all set for a chance to sharpen his culinary skills while taking his mind off chemo treatments for the day.
Normally known for keeping a smile on his face, the aspiring young chef was all about business as he prepared to begin his culinary endeavor. When asked why the reason for his change in demeanor, Jackson said, “I guess when it comes to cooking I kind of lose the smile and put on a serious face.”
A tour of the kitchen and proper food handling instructions were first; then the cooking class began and Deven jumped right in. The Italian-inspired menu, which included Caesar salad with grilled chicken and Pasta Carbonara was custom printed and personalized to commemorate the event. Chef Hardy first taught Deven the specific knife techniques required for the preparation of a salad and then the best grilling times to produce the juiciest boneless chicken for their recipe. They completed the meal by preparing Pasta Carbonara, which includes eggs, pancetta and pasta. Although it only has a few ingredients, Pasta Carbonara can be tricky to make…but not for Deven. Chef Hardy made this observation: “You can tell he has a true passion for it; he’s very attentive –picks up on details.”
After some serious cooking, Deven applied his newly learned plating and presentation skills to serve his sumptuous Italian dishes to his guests, and even enjoyed the meal himself. All around the table the “mmmms!” and “yums!” were heard escaping the mouths of his guests…and judging by the clean plates, the meal was a hit. Eventually Jackson cracked a smile and said, “I was really happy to see that they liked it and that kind of put a smile on my face.”
As the afternoon was drawing to an end, Jackson’s mom Valeria said her son went from a kid to an adult right before her eyes. “I had a moment as most moms probably would have –he was just in his zone,” she said.
When asked about his culinary adventure, Jackson replied, “Everything was delicious; it was good, the sauce was good, the salad was good, the dressings were good, everything was just good.”
In addition to seeing the joy Deven and his family experienced, we were especially pleased to have had this opportunity to work with Jay’s HOPE Foundation in continuing their mission to improve the quality of life of children with cancer and their families in Georgia. It was humbling and touching to see this young boy’s wish come true, and to know that Helms College helped bring an afternoon of happiness to Deven and his family.
To cap his experience, Helms College awarded Jay’s HOPE kiddo Deven Jackson with their first-ever honorary culinary diploma during their graduation ceremony on June 23rd.
Helms College is passionate not just about providing a unique learning opportunity in the culinary arts, but also about being a contributing community member and finding ways to give back to those in need, including helping make a young cook’s dream come true!