Thousands gathered in the Brazos County Expo Complex on Friday night as 50 Men Who Can Cook celebrated its 13th year.
The annual event benefits the College Station ISD Education Foundation, which in turn supports College Station schools and students. After raising $230,000 last year, Foundation Executive Director Teresa Benden said the event was on track to surpass that amount.
Linda and Gary Chandler, whose son is an educator, drove up from Austin to attend the event to show their support.
“It’s very heartwarming to see that we still got it in America,” Linda Chandler said about the event. “We still care about our future; the kids are our future. What a great celebration.”
“We can’t do enough to support our teachers and kids and the whole school administration,” said Gary Chandler, a former superintendent. “I just appreciate them having it.”
After 10 years as the foundation’s executive director, Benden said, she is always amazed that they are able to top the previous year.
With 66 booths this year and 141 celebrity chefs, she said she always looks forward to seeing what each booth does, with dishes from crawfish fettuccine to caramel cheesecake with sea salt and outfits from Waldo of Where’s Waldo fame to Sesame Street characters.
“It’s all to support our local College Station ISD kids,” Benden said. “That to me warms my heart. It’s just exciting. It’s fun.
I love that the community always comes out to support us.”
Duane Olson at the Avinext booth said it is the perfect setup because guests can sample as many recipes as they want and have fun, and it all benefits the students.
Caleb DeLuna and Doug Fuentes, who won the Rookie of the Year prize this year, said they wanted to jump onto the chef’s side of the table, both noting their wives work in the district and both have students who attend College Station schools.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Fuentes said. “I like to cook; he likes to cook, but to see people when they walk away from your booth and they’re nodding their head and they’re liking it, it’s worth all the work that we can do all day.”
Jeff Mann, director of instruction and leadership development in the district and former A&M Consolidated Middle School principal, said the event gives him a chance to connect with the public and see parents in a different setting.
“I think it’s a fun way to raise money, and you kind of get that social, fun interaction that people really enjoy out of it,” he said.
This was Tom Pool’s first year as a celebrity chef, and for the Texas A&M Foundation booth, he chose “The Ole Aggie,” Albert Agnor’s chili recipe that won the International Championship Chili Cook-off in Terlingua. Even though this was Pool’s first year as a chef, the senior director of development for the Texas A&M Foundation said he has attended many times in the past, calling it a “first-class event.”
Two of the Education Foundation’s special programs were represented at this year’s event with Chrissy’s Closet and a new Summer Day Camp scholarship program.
Shannon Long, technology coordinator at the district and Chrissy’s Closet co-founder, said it is incredible to see the community’s support for the foundation and its programs.
Those special programs would otherwise not be possible without the foundation, College Station’s interim Superintendent Mike Martindale said.
“We’re tremendously thankful,” he said. “We are fortunate, and we realize that, and we’re grateful for that. We will never take for granted the support of the Education Foundation.”
The turnout “speaks volumes,” he said of the community, the district and the foundation.
“To ensure the best for the kids takes everybody. This represents that,” he said.
College Station Board President Michael Schaefer compared it to New Year’s Eve or Christmas because he sees everybody and everyone comes ready to spend money to support the cause.
“You see commitment from the community for our school district,” he said. “I would challenge any other district in the state or country to pull off something like this, not just the amount of money that it brings in, but the support.”