Recipe for Success: ABC House Chefs Share Passions and More with Scholars
This article is one of a special GOOD Morning Wilton series to highlight A Better Chance (ABC) of Wilton. GMW is a proud sponsor of the ABC House Tour on Friday, June 7, and the Preview Party this Sunday, June 2. To purchase tickets visit the ABC Wilton website. Today, GMW associate editor Kristin Johnson got a chance to talk to two of the many amazing Wilton people it takes to make sure this program does everything possible for the scholars who are part of it.
“I feel so lucky every day going into work,” says Heidi Hawk, one of two house chefs for A Better Chance (ABC) of Wilton. “It is both an honor and privilege to come in and talk with the scholars and hear about their day.”
Hawk has worked at the boys’ ABC House on Cannon Rd. for eight years now. Previously, she worked at Hawk Photography, her husband Daryl’s photography business, while raising two sons. Once her children were a bit older she thought it might be nice to get a job outside of the home.
“A friend told me about the opening at the ABC House, and since I love young people as well as cooking, I thought how wonderful it would be if I could combine two great passions of mine,” she recalls. “I had known about ABC Wilton for years and was excited about the opportunity to become involved.”
Hawk arrives at the house at 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday so she can greet the scholars when they arrive home from school. She decides each day what she is going to cook and then shops that day to ensure that she has the freshest ingredients to use.
“The cashiers at Stop & Shop like to guess what I’m making based on the ingredients on the conveyor belt,” says Hawk.
She tries to rotate certain dinners that most of the boys really like while also trying to expose them to new meals that are part of a healthy, balanced diet. On Wednesdays, Hawk combs through The New York Times’ food section for a recipe that’s new to her, so dinner tends to be a little more unusual on those days. The scholars can count on a big tossed salad and fruit salad on a daily basis and dessert on Mondays, which according to Hawk starts the week off on a “fun note.”
Over the years there have been a couple of scholars who particularly enjoy cooking and being in the kitchen. “Those are some of my most enjoyable days when we are cooking side-by-side,” says Hawk. “But almost every day each scholar comes in and hangs out for a little bit, which is a fabulous opportunity for me to get to know them and support them in anyway I can.”
Over on Godfrey Place, Jane Legaz has been working as the ABC house chef for the girls’ home since 2015. Wilton is one of just five programs in the country that operates two residences–one for boys and one for girls. Legaz brought 20 years of experience from the hotel/restaurant hospitality world to her work with the Wilton scholars.
Like Hawk, Legaz typically arrives just before 3 p.m. and stays until 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. She does all of her shopping and meal planning before she arrives at the house, but does all of the cooking onsite.
“Based on our budget, I go through all of the weekly ads for sales and buy accordingly,” explains Legaz. “I very quickly learn what the girls like and dislike and make an effort to rotate their favorite meals into the daily menu. I have had to take allergy and other dietary restrictions into account in the past but this year the girls don’t require special considerations.”
While the girls do most of their cooking on the weekends with the house directors and their host families, they do spend a decent amount of time with Legaz in the kitchen, helping her with clean up, which includes washing dishes and taking out the trash.
“For the most part when I’m in the kitchen the girls are there keeping me company. As every mother knows, you don’t play favorites, but some days some of girls need more TLC than others.”
The biggest challenge and best part of her role, according to Legaz, are really one and the same. “I have such a special rapport with the girls. I share with them as much as they share with me. The challenge is to balance the friendship with my inclination to mother them. For example, I cannot resist teaching them the importance of responsible spending and the benefits of frugality.”
Hawk also points to a strong bond with the boys.”We really have a great time together. Sometimes we share jokes and sometimes I just tell them stories about my childhood and some of the concerns and fears that I had while growing up, all of which are very normal for teenagers as they negotiate adulthood.”
She adds, “These really are amazing young men and it has been wonderful to have seen many of them arrive as freshmen, see how they develop and mature and eventually graduate in just four short years. Wilton is extremely lucky to have such an amazing program and I will always be proud of the small role I’ve had in being part of their lives for the few years they are here. I will always treasure the notes and cards I have received from the boys thanking me–they truly are appreciative of this wonderful opportunity the program affords them.”