When the Food Network contacted Kip Poole via LinkedIn, his first thought was: How can this opportunity benefit my kids?
The kids he’s referring to are the students at William Penn High School, where Poole, 35, has been a culinary arts instructor for six years. As founder of The Crop Foundation, Poole recruits top chefs from the area to help students prepare themed meals at pop-up events. The foundation’s proceeds raise scholarship funds to help students to continue their education in the culinary and hospitality industries after graduation.
When Food Network representatives initially contacted Poole about competing on Guy Fieri’s “Guy’s Grocery Games” in January, they asked him if he would be interested in competing in a holiday episode. He said sure, but again, brought up the kids. “What about a teen chef episode?” he suggested. The network did end up interviewing six of his students and took one—Kevin Castro—to film an episode of “Guy’s Grocery Games” with the theme “Best Rising Chef.” (Castro came in second place.)
When it was Poole’s turn, he said he really didn’t have to try out for “Guy’s Grocery Games,” except for a handful of Skype interviews. “I had to pretend I was running around a grocery store during one of them,” he recalls.
The Halloween-themed episode, “Halloween Spook-Tacular,” aired Sunday, Oct. 2. Poole ended up in second place, though his costume likely stole the show. He said his first instinct was to dress as Julia Child, but was told by producers he couldn’t be a real person. His next idea was Mrs. Doubtfire, the loveable housekeeper the late Robin Williams played in the 1993 movie of the same name. But then he thought about his work and students at William Penn, and it hit him: a lunch lady. “We are all about farm to table at William Penn. I wanted to market the awesome things we are doing here; however, I realize the cafeteria lady is not here anymore,” he says.
Before his appearance, Poole called Robbie Jester—a Newark chef with three Food Network appearances under his belt—for advice. “He said ‘it’s real,’” says Poole, who doesn’t deny the stress and reality of the show.
Poole is now back at William Penn, doing what he loves most: cooking and helping his students achieve their dreams. “My goal is the Crop Foundation and how I can get it bigger and better,” he says. “I would also like to get more kids involved in the Food Network.”