By John McGurl

High temperatures, high stress, and a fast-paced work environment are what culinary students at New Tampa’s Paul R. Wharton High are looking for. But, before they can start a job in the cooking or hospitality industry, they must get the proper education — and thanks to the efforts of Chef Maxcel Hardy, some Wharton culinary students are getting a good start.

Schools like the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Johnson & Wales (J&W), and the Art Institute are some of the better-known places for talented young chefs to go and hone their skills before becoming the next Emeril Lagasse. Hardy, a former pupil in Wharton’s first culinary program, is giving back to his high school in the form of five $1,000 scholarships.

The recipients this year are Tony Kekoa, 18, who is planning to attend J&W’s Miami campus; Kaylee Melendez, 19, who plans on attending the Hospitality & Culinary Arts Management program at Hillsborough Community College; Khaleel Mohamed, 17, who will be headed to the Hospitality Management program at the University of Central Florida; and Caitlin Christmas, 17 and Benjamin Pomales, 18, who are headed to CIA’s renowned Hyde Park, NY, campus this fall.

“I just love cooking,” says Pomales, adding that he originally thought about computer engineering. He is excited to be attending CIA with Christmas, his classmate and fellow scholarship winner. Both plan to study culinary, with a little baking.

“I’d rather learn more about actual cooking with a some baking, than be able to bake and not be able to cook,” says Christmas.

Hardy graduated in 2002, and since then, has become a renowned chef. The 28-year-old has established himself among high-profile clients in sports, entertainment and politics. Hardy, who was part of Wharton’s inaugural culinary class, has written a cookbook entitled Recipes For Life, and also has developed a clothing line, “Chef Max Designs.” Through his foundation, One Chef Can 86 Hunger, he has set up a scholarship program to help Wharton students further their education in the culinary arts. Applicants for the scholarships wrote essays explaining why they wanted to pursue a career in the culinary arts, and where they hoped to be in 10 years.

Initially Hardy was going to give out one $2,000 scholarship, but was so impressed with the essays he received, he decided to award all five.

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