Mr. Plemmons goes to Washington: Olympic College chef selected for childhood obesity fight

In every student, Chef Chris Plemmons sees possibilities.

He can teach a food bank client how to make a cream sauce out of powdered milk. He will stick with an aspiring chef until she can tie a pork loin just right.

“What keeps me going is the desire,” said Plemmons, culinary arts instructor at Olympic College. “I think when you’ve got someone with a sincere interest, I think that’s the biggest thing for me."

What he didn't think possible: An invitation to the White House to kick off a nationwide campaign June 4 to fight childhood obesity.

Plemmons will be among the 100 chefs selected across the country to launch First Lady Michelle Obama's "Chefs Move to Schools" program, part of her Let's Move anti-obesity initiative. Chefs Move to Schools will pair chefs with schools to help teachers and parents teach children about healthy eating and nutrition - much like what Plemmons has already done in Bremerton.

The 23-year veteran chef has worked closely with low-income residents in past years as a former board member of the Bremerton Foodline, teaching clients how to make gourmet-style meals out of food bank fare - such as a cobbler from cereal, oatmeal and peaches - and developing a $1 cook book with those recipes. Educating the public and his Olympic College students how to prepare healthy food is among his top priorities.

"It’s important that they not only understand how to cook, but what is the nutritional value," said Plemmons, who has taught at Olympic College for six years. "How do you guarantee your customer that you’re not only getting a good-looking plate but something that’s nutritional?"

Plemmons was selected for the White House event because of his dedication to community service, according to his invitation. In addition to his work at the Bremerton Foodline, he also helped host dinners for the Kitsap County HIV AIDS Foundation's Red Ribbon Supper Club, a monthly free dinner program for people with HIV and AIDS and their families and friends. Additionally, he serves on the board of the Kitsap Community and Agricultural Alliance and the Kitsap Food and Farm Policy Council. He was formerly the president of the Washington State Chef’s Association.

"He's part of a generation of people making a solid contribution to his community," said Patti Peterson, executive director of the Bremerton Foodline.

Tina Nys, Olympic College catering instructor and a former student of Plemmons' about five years ago, said the chef has a special knack for bringing out the best in his students.

"He taught me just about everything about how to run a kitchen," Nys said. "He’s really open to questions and he’s very generous with his time for the people who want to learn."

Since Plemmons learned about his White House invitation, excitement has spread among his students, frequently stopping by to congratulate him.

"All the students are really thrilled," Nys said. "It’s not often you’re taught by or work with someone who’s headed to the White House."

To Patterson, the admiration he has earned is a reflection of what he has given to the public.

"Chris believes that everyone can help themselves to be a stronger, better person," she said. "He believes in them, he believes in his students, he believes in the community helping people to get them back on their feet."

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