For one day, five Payson High School Culinary Arts students had a once in a lifetime opportunity with a major culinary star.
Not only did they meet famed Guy Fieri of TV Food Network’s “Guy’s Big Bite,” “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” and “Ultimate Recipe Showdown,” they also got to learn, cook and eat with him and some of his favorite chefs.
On Dec. 18, Anne deRoulhac, Justin Richardson, Brett Goodwin, Nicole DePugh and Leticia Martinez were chosen to intern with Fieri during the Phoenix stop of his “Rock and Roll Roadshow” at the Mesa Center of the Arts. The three-hour explosive show is a rock ’n’ roll concert mixed together with cooking demos.
During each stop of the 21-city tour, a group of ProStart students are asked to assist Fieri with the production of the show. ProStart is a two-year high school-based program that helps students interested in the culinary arts. Students compete in local competitions and work with seasoned chefs to hone their skills.
Fieri participated in ProStart as a high school student and decided to incorporate the program into his live show. Sheri Tropio, coordinator of the Arizona Restaurant Association’s Foundation, selected Payson as the only school in Arizona to work with Fieri.
“Originally we thought only one Payson High student would be selected, and when we found out our school would get to fill all of the spots, we were very excited,” said Devon Wells, PHS culinary teacher.
“The opportunity was a big unknown and we could only guess what the students would be doing, but as the live show hit the various cities, teachers would e-mail what to expect.”
Unsure what they would be doing at the show but excited beyond belief, Wells and the students headed off to Phoenix in a school van last week.
“Walking in, all we knew was that they would be doing some prep work, be on stage, work with various chefs, meet Fieri, and wear official chef whites (head-to-toe white chef outfits),” Wells said.
When they arrived at the arts center, staff from the show greeted them, gave them coveted back-stage passes and whisked them onstage to begin prep work for the show that was hours away.
Shortly after arriving, students were introduced to the show’s second act, Australian bartender, chef and actor Hayden “Woody” Wood.
“Woody visited with us and let us know how best to interact with Fieri, making sure we ask questions, look alert, and shake hands solidly,” Wells said.
After getting a confidence brush up from Woody, Fieri greeted the students and asked them about their cooking background and how they have enjoyed ProStart.
“He let us know how he will be relying on us during the show,” Wells said.
Still reeling from meeting one of the TV’s biggest food stars, the students dizzily got to work helping the production staff.
Richardson (crowned the Arizona ACF/US Foods Junior Chef of the Year in October) and Goodwin showed off their knife skills chopping vegetables while deRoulhac, DePugh and Martinez set the set up for a juggling skit.
As the students worked, various chefs participating in the live show watched and gave insight. Chefs came from Panini Pete’s Cafe and Bake Shoppe in Alabama, Gorilla Barbeque in Pacifica, Calif., and Grinders and Grinders West in Kansas City.
Kleetus Cox and and Dirty P, Fieri’s sous chefs, also worked with students.
Once everything was set up for the 7:30 show, students took a break in the green room with (ironically) a catered meal.
When the live show finally rolled around, the students were pumped to cook onstage with Fieri.
Flagstaff chef John Conley of Salsa Brava opened the show in a Santa Claus suit.
In his 25-minute cooking demo, Conley made his famous roasted pineapple habanero salsa and mango Maui tacos.
Woody was up next making cocktails, stacking martini glasses and juggling open bottles “like they were balls,” Wells said.
“The audience that paid $248 to sit at tables onstage were served Woody’s creations,” she said.
Following Woody was Fieri with a karaoke singing competition and more food demos.
“Guy is not just a chef, but a major entertainer,” Wells said.
While cooking with his 13-year-old son Hunter and crew members, Fieri set food on fire, told story after story and interacted with the audience.
“The music was upbeat, the set was wild and the outfits fit the mood,” Wells said.
“During the show, Payson culinary students blended in with the sets, moving food, washing knives, serving Fieri’s dishes to the audience on stage and picking up dropped juggling glasses.”
Following the exhilarating show, Fieri signed autographs and PHS students helped clean the set.
When the crowd dissipated, students got T-shirts signed by the whole crew.
“Guy ended the evening by writing in my cookbook, ‘Great job with your team,’” Wells said.
“Many of the chefs encouraged the students to go for their dreams in the culinary field. At midnight, we were loading up the van and heading back to Payson, tired, revved up and knowing that was an opportunity that will never roll around again.”
“There is no way I, the culinary educator, will ever be able to give the students an opportunity like that again. It just can’t be topped. Guy was not only inspiring, he taught the kids and introduced them to some awesome chefs,” Wells concluded.