Celebrity Cook-Off raises $1 million over 12 years

By Thomas Moran | Staff Writer

HEB held its annual Celebrity Cook-Off Friday evening at the Waco Convention Center to benefit the Waco Independent School District Education Foundation, which was founded in 1995.

Waco ISD Educational Foundation President Taylor Bledsoe said this year’s cook-off was a huge milestone because the event has officially raised over $1 million for the foundation in its 12 year history.

Bill Davenport is the General Manager at the HEB off of Valley Mills Drive and I-35 and has been involved with the event since its inception.

Baylor director of student media Bruce Gietzen, a longtime affiliate of the education foundation, approached Davenport about starting the fundraiser 12 years ago and HEB was eager to help, Davenport said.

“What we are all about is much more than being a local supermarket,” Davenport said. “We are about improving the quality of lives of our fellow Texans. We do that through two major channels. One goes heavily toward feeding people not only through being a supermarket, but also through philanthropic giving to food banks around the state and different emergency responses and things of that nature … The other piece that we think is so important is that everyone in the state of Texas deserves a good education.”

The popular annual event featured dishes prepared by various local Waco celebrities. The dishes and chefs competed for awards, including best appetizer, best entrée, best desert, top chef and more.

Lara Robertson, Waco ISD Education Foundation Specialist, played a key role in organizing the event and said the dishes were evaluated by judges and attendees who voted with monetary donations.

“The top chef award is based on our judges’ input based on the actual food served and that went to Phillip Patterson, who is the CEO of Providence Healthcare Network, and his teammate was Dr. Brian Beckert, also with Providence,” Roberston said. “Then we also have one that is based on guest input and they are able to vote monetarily for their favorites and that went to HEB and Bill Davenport.”

The event has grown exponentially since it began, and the Waco ISD Educational Foundation will continue searching for creative ways to fundraise to benefit Waco schools, Bledsoe said. The foundation raises money to provide opportunities and resources for Waco students and teachers that extend beyond normal expenses.

“Every dollar that we raise go back directly into the district, into the classroom, and we have two ways that we do that,” Bledsoe said. “We are the caretakers for about four different scholarships that we award every year for kids going to school. The other main function of the foundation is that we distribute typically between $100,000 and $110,000 every year in grants that go anywhere from kindergarten to 12th-grade classrooms.”

The fundraiser was a tremendous success. The event demonstrates the unity of the Waco community, Davenport said.

“It’s absolutely outstanding,” Davenport said. “We had a room full of guests, which speaks to the response that the event creates and everybody got to sample food from about 25 different local celebrities and there was plenty of food and drink for all. Everybody had a great time.”