Paul O’Toole was taken aback when he first visited the Urban Promise Academy in Wilmington. He had asked one young student why he was wearing four button-down shirts, and the child replied that he didn’t have a winter coat.
O’Toole, executive chef at Deerfield in Newark, has spent the past three years teaching Urban Promise students in grades K through 8 about the benefits of healthy eating. O’Toole is doing so through Michelle Obama’s Chefs Move to Schools program.
“Some of these kids, all they have to eat is what they get at school,” O’Toole says. “It’s eye-opening.”
O’Toole, who started as a chef’s apprentice at age 18, has been in the business for more than 30 years. He was chosen for Chefs Move to Schools through his work with the American Culinary Federation, of which he is a past president. Joined by his daughter, Julie, who was completing a high school project at the time, O’Toole would visit Urban Promise and share healthy treats. “We bring packs of raisins, carrots, cheese sticks, apples, pre-packaged food,” he says. “We do demonstrations.”
Thanks to his work through the Chefs Move program, as well as other community service projects, O’Toole has earned the highest honor a chef can receive in the United States: acceptance into The Honorable Order of the Golden Toque.
The order is restricted to 100 lifetime members—meaning someone must die before another member can be inducted—and a member must be nominated by three active members. The award recognizes “achieved professional attainment of high estate, abiding interest in professional progress and devoted and distinguished service to the Culinary Profession and Arts,” according to the order’s website.
O’Toole will travel to Chicago in early June for the induction ceremony. (chefsmovetoschools.org)—D.O.