When area chefs and restauranteurs show up at next spring’s Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival, it will be to both dazzle their adoring fans and to further market their brand to the community. During Festival season they are treated like rock stars and the spotlight shines on them. But, that is only half of the story.

The very existence of the Fort Worth Food + Wine Foundation is to mentor and educate culinary students. What goes on behind the scenes, and with little fan-fare, is the Foundation’s mission to raise funds that will in turn provide scholarships. This is really a passion project for all involved to ensure future industry leaders can get the training they will need to be successful in the culinary field.

That is why the Foundation hosted its first-ever Fort Worth Area Culinary Career Conference today, which was held at Will Rogers Memorial Center.

The event brought out some of the most respected names in the local food scene. As busy as they are, when offered the chance to inspire nearly 300 culinary arts students from 13 different schools across the Metroplex, this Who’s Who of notable chefs cleared their calendars to be on hand.

Russell Kirkpatrick, the general manager of Reata Restaurant and co-founder of the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival, was pleased with the enthusiasm. “At first we thought it would only be Fort Worth schools, but we have schools from Granbury and Keller taking part today as well,” he said. “We want to positively influence these kids who love cooking and are actively exploring the industry for their career.”

Lanny Lancarte II, owner of Fort Worth’s popular Righteous Foods, was the keynote speaker, sharing his journey from growing up in the kitchen at his family’s Joe T. Garcia’s to Mexico and back again with the attendees.

Jon Bonnell, owner and executive chef at Waters Bonnell’s Coastal Cuisine and Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, which is celebrating 15 years in business this month, moderated one of the panel discussions called Fort Worth Trends − Past, Present + Future, which featured other pioneers of the city’s food culture: Michael Thomson of Michaels Cuisine; Molly McCook of Ellerbe Fine Foods; and Hans Peter Muller of Swiss Pastry Shop. “I wanted to take part today, in an effort to grow our industry,” Muller said, “There is a shallow pool of qualified and trained culinary professionals in our area, so we are all motivated to invest in the next generation.”

Bonnell recalled knowing little about the industry when he started out, “When I went to culinary school, I had to buy a book called The Guide to Culinary School to get my bearings. This is a fantastic opportunity for these students to learn about the industry, before having to dive in…like I did…with absolutely no contacts.”

June Naylor moderated the Sweet Dreams, Small Business panel which included: Kari Crowe of MELT Ice Cream, Lindsey Lawing of Sweet Lucy’s Pies and Angie Moors of FunkyTown Donuts.

Sarah Hooton of Central Market, took part in the Outside the Line panel discussion along with Tom McGrath of Halperns’ and Mark Hitri of The Culinary School of Fort Worth which was moderated by Deborah Ferguson. “Taking part in a career conference like this one, would have opened my eyes to all of the options available to me, when I was their age. Culinary careers are way more than just working in a restaurant,” Hooton said.

Juan Rodriguez from Magdalena’s led the discussion titled Motor to Mortar with panelists Sarah Castillo and Jacob Watson of Taco Heads, Kevin Martinez of both Yatai Food Kart and Tokyo Café and Carolyn Phillips of Alchemy Pops. “I hope this makes a lasting impression on these students, and that they make the most of this rare opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the most influential people in our industry,” said Rodriguez.

Nancy Ward moderated the practical session on applying to culinary school, Apply Yourself, with Wes Benefield of The Culinary School of Fort Worth, Steve DeShazo of El Centro College and Tabitha Smith of Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County.

The Fort Worth Food + Wine Foundation has awarded over $60,000, to date, in scholarships to students pursuing careers in culinary arts. With new opportunities like this career conference, they are dedicated to inspiring the next generation of culinary professionals.

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