In 1997, I felt honored to be asked to run the Culinary Program at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Florida. It was the oldest High School in Tampa, and I would be the first teacher in Hillsborough County to be hired from industry - not a traditional teacher. Prior to that, it was all Home Economics Teachers that ran this type of program. This feeling of giving back was something I had not felt at that magnitude, and one I thought would never be surpassed. Little did I know....
In 2006, now at Chamberlain High School with almost 10 years of culinary education under my belt, I was asked to recommend a couple of female students that were looking to continue their education in the field of the baking and pastry arts; and ultimately to be present at the senior awards banquet that year. We had an abundance of amazing students in that graduating class, it was easy to recommend a selection of females that were interested in Culinary. There was, however, one student who stood head and shoulders above the rest in her desire to pursue their education in the Art of Baking and Pastry.
The events that followed at the banquet were overwhelming, and life changing in many ways. It validated the work I was putting in as an instructor, and made an impact on the life of one young lady. Kyle Tidwell stood up and awarded the Naomi Tidwell Memorial Scholarship to Miss Amanda Higgins. The scholarship he created in memory of his daughter that was supposed to graduate that same year. Naomi had lost her life in a car accident two years prior.
The following year, Kyle informed me that there was no funding for the scholarship. At that time, I made a personal commitment to find a way to fund this scholarship moving forward. From 2008 until 2017, I, along with many business partners, did just that. However, in 2017 I left Chamberlain High School and I am saddened to say the Naomi Tidwell Scholarship seems to have been forgotten...Until now!
I am proud to say, The VooDoo Chef Foundation will be awarding the Naomi Tidwell Scholarship to a student looking to continue their education in the field of culinary arts. Below you will find the speech Kyle Tidwell read that very day in 2006. You will also read a testimonial from the first recipient of the scholarship, Amanda Higgins, and a few other students.
If you would like to contribute the Naomi Tidwell Scholarship, your support would be appreciated.
Naomi Tidwell Scholarship
Kyle Tidwell's Speech the Night of the Innaugral Scholarship
My daughter, Naomi Tidwell, was an incoming freshman at Chamberlain in the fall of 2002 and was overjoyed to be enrolled in the early classes of the culinary arts program when it was still in its infancy. All during her freshman and sophomore years she talked everyday about this program and its instructor that had become so special to her - - and that teacher is Chef Erik Youngs.
Almost every afternoon she would come home and prepare for us the same foods that she had learned about in class that day, walking us through each step by step detail so that we would appreciate the ART of culinary science as she had come to. We viewed it as an “elective” and didn’t think much about all the attention she was giving to it as this the only exposure we all had to all of this was a new show called ‘Emeril Live’ that came on each night on this new network called “The Food Network”. Naomi watched this program every night during those early years.
On Saturday, May 1, 2004, just before the end of her sophomore year - - Naomi died tragically in an auto accident along with a close friend on her way to the movies; something high school kids do every single weekend. As the weeks and months passed her room and belongings stay untouched as we struggled to make a step forward to move on with our lives.
One evening my wife and I sat on the floor of her bedroom with her Chambo backpack - - it had been unopened since that last Friday at school she attended. We always assumed Naomi would follow in her mother’s footsteps of becoming a kindergarten teacher as she had mentioned going to college with a few friends and pursuing this course of study as a freshman back in 2002. What we found was truly amazing…..
There were pamphlets for Johnsons & Wales, Culinary Institute of America, Orlando Culinary Institute, to name a few; along with letters of correspondence she had already received back from these colleges. We were stunned! We had no idea she was this serious about pursuing further training in the culinary arts as she had not mentioned to us yet – probably waiting until further in her junior and senior years when she began taking these steps towards graduation.
We decided, along with a corporate sponsor, to create the initial Naomi Tidwell Memorial Scholarship beginning in 2006 which would have been her senior year graduation.
The VooDoo Chef Foundation 501 (c)(3)
Amanda Higgins - The First Scholarship Recipient
The Naomi Tidwell scholarship helped me in my success in more ways than one. First being the most obvious, it help pay for my schooling. But it was more than just money. It gave me the confidence I needed at a time where uncertainty is at the forefront.
I received the scholarship in 2006 at the very beginning of my career. At the time I only had about 1 1/2 years of culinary experience. It meant a great deal to me Naomi's parents, complete strangers to me, believed in me and that I deserved a scholarship in their daughter’s name. It meant a lot to me then as it does to me now. I am very honored to have been the first one to receive the scholarship.
I have carried that confidence throughout my career and still carry it to this day. I currently work at Apple Inc. where I am the pastry sous chef at their corporate office in Austin, TX. Before that I worked for The W Hotel Austin, The St. Regis Atlanta, JW Marriott Marco Island, The World Center Marriott in Orlando, The Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.
~ Amanda Higgins