Pamela Bedford sat alone in her office when she saw the email. She yelled to her students in the next room — they had to see it.
Bedford, the director of the Institute of Culinary Arts at Eastside High School, was nominated as one of four finalists for the American Culinary Federation’s national Chef Educator of the Year Award — an annual recognition of a culinary educator who has led by example to enhance the cooking skills of their students and guide them to success.
Finalists compete at the ACF national convention in Orlando, Florida, from Aug. 2 to Aug. 5. The final decision will be announced Aug. 5, Bedford said.
“It’s very exciting to be a finalist for this type of award,” Bedford said. “There are a lot of really amazing culinary educators all over this country, so I feel very lucky.”
Bedford began her career in the restaurant industry when she was 17 and remained there for 10 years until she started teaching. She has worked at Eastside High School for the past 14 years.
She said she wanted to teach young people how to cook to make up for the lack of guidance during the start of her culinary career.
Her initial connection to cooking came from her grandfather who would throw elaborate parties at his home, despite not being a chef, she said.
“It was just always so much fun to get into the kitchen with him and see the joy that it brought to him and to other people,” she said. “I come from a large Italian family, so everything we do is surrounded by food.”
Bedford’s passion for cooking has transferred into the classroom where she motivates her students to produce a wide variety of foods from Mexican and Italian cuisine to pastries and bread.
“They come into this large commercial kitchen that we have here, and they’re sometimes a little afraid and intimidated and not sure if they are going to do alright in it,” she said. “I like to show them that it’s not that hard. There is a little work that is involved in it, but it’s not anything that they can’t achieve.”
Maria Kremer, who graduated from Eastside High School last year, took culinary classes with Bedford for three years.
“Chef Bedford has climbed the ladder just as anybody else, and I am really excited and proud of her to have gotten the recognition that she deserves,” she said.
With Bedford’s guidance, Kremer said she won several culinary awards, such as the Embers Wood Grill’s “Build a Dessert” competition, where students invented their own dessert creations.
“She is like your best friend but also your mentor at the same time,” she said. “She was a good role model.”
Jeremy Mall, another culinary instructor at Eastside High School, credits Bedford’s enthusiasm for inciting his desire to teach.
“She puts in all of her heart, blood, sweat and tears into it to get these kids to be the best cooks that they can possibly be,” Mall said. “She is an incredible cook, she’s a great teacher and everybody loves her.”
Contact Maya Erwin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mayaerwin3.