Chef shares his knowledge to help kids reach their goals

By Becky GINOS

BOUNTIFUL—Keeping up with Hai Fitzgerald is no small feat. The Vietnamese chef and owner of the eclectic Thyme & Seasons restaurant in Bountiful flits around like a fly, landing briefly before moving onto the next spot. But when it comes to teaching he’s laser focused. Fitzgerald works with students from the Davis School District’s STAR (Students Transitioning to Adult Responsibilities) program, teaching them cooking and life skills. “I find out their strong points and their weak points and give them the confidence to do it,” he said. “I’ve taught about 1,000 regular adults and kids as young as 8 years old and I’ve never met a perfect person. These are 18 to 24-year-olds with minor challenges like OCD or maybe they’re not as quick as others, so they’re trying to play catch up with their peers. Some have challenges they have no control of. I try to take these kids and get them back in line with their peers or better.” The students come twice a week and Fitzgerald has them chopping vegetables, setting out napkins and decorating pastries. “They go to a task on their own then teach each other,” he said. “By understanding what their needs, challenges and disabilities are we can see what operation needs to be done. They can hone in on that task and see the basic prep for the store and see the operation from the beginning. It feeds into all the other projects we’re running. They get to do everything.” The restaurant is staffed mostly by his students too. “I start hiring them when they graduate but they have to show up regularly,” said Fitzgerald. “We teach the basic skills of show up, do what you’re told, follow up and communicate. We’re teaching them to be self-starters. That’s the hardest skill to teach adults and children.” Garrett Milne has been in the program for about eight months. “I like gaining experience in the work field from someone who has a different life experience from normal Americans,” he said. “I’ve learned to work hard, be proficient and work smarter, not harder.” “My favorite thing is using knives,” said student Kylee Barton. “He’s taught me cutting techniques for dicing, etc. It’s fun because he knows that’s my favorite thing to do.” Fitzgerald said all the students are carefully evaluated before they are allowed to work with knives. “They’re razor sharp,” he said. “They start with paring knives and peelers, then go into the chef’s knives.” Thyme & Seasons is a fusion restaurant. “Anything goes as long as it’s fresh,” he said. “We fly in fish from all over the world in season. If it’s not in season – we don’t touch it.” People from all over the world come in to sample Fitzgerald’s cooking. “We have visitors from 200 countries come through here,” he said. “They leave money from their countries and we collect signatures on it.” Fitzgerald was in computers for 33 years and said the restaurant is a hobby. “I’ve eaten just about everything there is to eat,” he laughed. “I’m bringing the best the world has to offer into one place. That’s what makes us unique. My wife is a dietician so we can work around people’s health challenges.” His main objective though is to give back to the community. “I am a most blessed person,” said Fitzgerald. “I want to take any person and teach them what I know to give them the opportunity to go out and reach their goal – whatever that is. If I can pass on what I’ve learned to these kids so that they can use it in their daily life and go work in any industry that is my goal.”


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