Essays on People's Platelist Finalists

I nominate Sara Brook, founder of Dessert Gallery Bakery and Café in Houston. Her restaurant serves lunch, dinner, and of course dessert! In addition to her skills as a chef, Sara also demonstrates a commitment to following your passion, a dedication to helping others succeed, and a devotion to making the community a better place.

Sara's passion for baking started when she was a child, and as she grew she continually experimented with recipes in her family's kitchen. After graduating high school, she attended the University of Texas, studying computer science and sociology with plans to attend law school. She graduated number one in her class, and was working at a law firm while studying for the LSAT. While there, she discovered that her passions lie not in law but in baking, and she was determined to come up with a plan to succeed in doing what she loved. Over the next 20+ years, she grew her business from baking cakes in her parents' home, to now owning two restaurants and a commercial commissary that employs over 60 people. She demonstrates the importance of following your passion.

Her dedication to helping others succeed is demonstrated in the way that she has staffed her business. Sara now employs over 60 people, and numerous employees have been hired through the YMCA refugee settlement program. Many of those employees have now progressed into management positions at Dessert Gallery through the opportunities Sara has provided. It's not uncommon to find employees that have been with Sara for 10 or more years.

Her commitment to help the community extends beyond her work with refugees. She donates her time and creations to various charities. One in particular that she supports is the MD Anderson Cancer Center. She partners with them to provide special items sold to raise money for their Children's Art Project, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to that cause. This cause has special meaning to her, as her nephew received treatment for cancer at a young age.

Now the food! Walking into Sara's restaurant puts a smile on your face, and she keeps board games there to encourage her customers to relax and linger. The cases are filled with delectable desserts, and the menu is full of creative soups, salads, wraps, quiches, and specials. She has a commitment to using fresh ingredients and her specials are inspired by items she gets at local farmers markets. It's hard to pick one signature item, but two of the favorites are Old Fashioned Diner Cake (moist yellow cake with a chocolate butter cream frosting) and "The Brownie that Started it All" (dense chocolate brownie, which became the inspiration for starting Dessert Gallery).

Through all of her success, Sara has remained humble and appreciative. She is representative of what can be accomplished with both passion and hard work, and how you should share your success by helping others to succeed and by making your community a better place.

LUIS BRUNO, Huntington's Grille, Jackson, Miss.

Luis Bruno is the chef at Huntington's Grille in Jackson, Miss. Healthy recipes are most important to Chef Luis, whose inspirational story includes maintaining a non-surgical weight loss of 200 pounds through exercise and healthy eating.

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