Essays on People's Platelist Finalists

Before Nestle, on a temporary assignment with a huge company responsible for the world's entertainment, as not to offend the corporate officers by his appearance, this gentle giant was told move from the front of the house and sit in the back of the house to eat his lunch.

While first raising a few eyebrows at Nestle, the clients no longer see the ominous tattooed biker but now see a Chef who has a deep passion for the creation of beautifully prepared food and finds deep fulfillment in sharing his gifts with all who will partake. Chef Michael's mantra: Experience life and love through the art of food.

AJ BORMAN, Ponderosa Steak House, Dickson, TN

One by one, the young men were brought before the judge. Each was shackled at the wrists and ankles and was wearing an orange jumpsuit identifying him as an inmate in Tennessee's Dickson County jail. As I listened to their offences and their sentences, doled out matter-of-factly by the judge, the knot in my stomach deepened. I clasped my hands hard over it and thought, "If A. J. goes to prison, I'll die. I know what this kid is made of. He's not a thug."

I glanced at my grandson, A. J., sitting next to me. Barely 18 years old, he sat motionless. His face was drawn and ashen against the bleached white T-shirt he wore. I knew how frightened he was. He had spent a night in jail before his bail was posted using the savings bonds I had diligently saved expecting him to use them for college tuition. A.J.'s life had not been easy. He was rejected by his father (my son) and reared by his mother who worked long hours, often for less than living wage. Seeing the situation, my husband and I did all we could to fill the gap, but in the end, A. J. became a street kid. When his name was called, A. J. approached the bench and was joined his attorney. The judge listened patiently as the attorney described A.J. as a young man with potential who was taken in by sly characters who used him. He described A.J.'s history and affirmed his belief that A. J. could move past this and be a good citizen.

The attorney concluded A. J. had two things going for him: a job offer to cook for Ponderosa Steak House, and his grandmother who wanted him to be happy and successful.

Now, three years later, A. J. has discovered he loves cooking and has become a popular Ponderosa chef. His favorite presentation is a dish called 21 Shrimp. "First I warm the plate and imbed it with rice," describes A. J. "Then I season six marinated shrimp, put them on a skewer and grill them. Once they are going, I fry the remaining shrimp. When it's all cooked, I place the grilled shrimp over the rice and artistically place the fried shrimp around the plate. I top with kale. Voila!"

Because my family roots are along the Louisiana Gulf Coast, I encourage people to order this. I feel like we're all supporting the shrimpers there. Formal education classes are difficult for A. J. His hope for the future is that a master chef or restaurant manager will notice him and take him under their wing. For A.J., that means increasing his culinary knowledge and earning a good living. So, I nominate Chef A. J. Borman for his courage to turn his life around, his creativity to food and his commitment to a responsible adulthood.

SARA BROOK, Dessert Gallery Bakery and Café, Houston, TX

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