AUGUSTA — Heidi Parent just started as the new culinary arts teacher at the Capital Area Technical Center. But it’s possible she won’t even last the entire school year.

Parent, 35, is one of 18 contestants on the upcoming season of Gordon Ramsay’s reality cooking competition, “Hell’s Kitchen,” and the winner receives a one-year contract offer for $250,000 to be the head chef of a restaurant at The Venetian Las Vegas.

“I don’t regret doing it, but I would never do it again,” Parent said last week in the CATC kitchen. “It was a lot of time away, and it was really stressful.”

So how did someone who most recently was the executive chef at Fishbones in Lewiston end up on one of the most popular cooking competitions on television?

Parent was bored one summer day several years ago and decided to complete the show’s lengthy application because she was always home “watching and saying I could do better than that or what are they doing.”

She got a quick response from the show’s casting department which invited her to an open call in Boston. She went through several on-camera interviews and was a standby contestant for Season 15 before ultimately being chosen for Season 16, which began filming in October 2014.

“We filmed in Los Angeles, but I can’t say how long I was out there,” Parent said. “But I can say that the show films for six weeks.”

Confidentiality aside, Parent said the experience of working for Ramsay was one she’d never forget. She said the Scottish cooking icon was friendly and personable off-camera, when he had time to chat, but ramped up his energy when the cameras were rolling.

“He’s amped up, but it’s usually for good reason, like if somebody was really messing up,” Parent said. “He’d converse with us when he had time, but he’s so busy and there wasn’t a lot of down time.”

Parent has only been at the CATC for a few weeks, but her students are already getting a feel for the kind of cook and teacher she is. Several are really looking forward to seeing her on TV when the show premieres at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, on Fox.

“There are so many things she applies her skills to in the kitchen, but she’s also really good in the classroom,” said junior Jared Orio. “She explains every single detail so that when we do get into the kitchen, we know exactly what we’re going to do.”

Orio, in his first year in the culinary arts program, said he hopes to pursue cooking as a career, and he’s learned so much from Parent already.

“I can tell by the way she pushes us in class that she probably did amazing on the show,” Orio said. “It’s crazy seeing her here helping us and then on a TV show. I can’t wait.”

Juniors Blake Robbins and Daria Murray both said Parent has an attitude and personality that makes the day fun. Murray said she’s hands-on and gives a lot of examples, and Robbins said everyone gets along and that Parent is funny and creative.

Parent took over for Charles Izzy, who ran the program in Augusta for 28 years, and he told Parent to make the program her own. Parent re-organized the classroom and made the kitchen more like what students would see in the real world, and she’s continuing to get more comfortable as a teacher.

In her career, she has experience mentoring students from the program she attended at the Lewiston Career and Technical Center, and she owes a lot to her instructor there, Dan Caron.

“I really enjoyed mentoring those kids and seeing them go from holding a knife wrong to watching them make puree and cook a perfect duck breast,” Parent said.

Most of Parent’s students are in their first year in the culinary arts program, so she had to start off with the basics of safety and sanitation before moving on to knife skills. Working with students at different levels has its challenges, Parent said, so she wants to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“I’ve got students that never got past making cereal with milk, but others come in and show me pictures of the pies they made the night before,” she said. “So I’m still figuring things out, but as long as there is structure, there won’t be any problems.”

Assistant teacher Valerie Arbour, who has been at the CATC for 19 years, said she’s doing a great job with the kids because she gets her point across with a sense of humor.

“She’s going to be on national television, she’s got the tattoos and the kids look at her like she’s one of them,” Arbour said.

Parent, who is married with three children, including two teenage step-children, said the teaching schedule is better for her family than being an executive chef. Her husband, Paul, works in trucking, and Parent said there were many days when the two wouldn’t see each other at all.

“I’m definitely taking a pay cut, but having weekends off and working only 185 days instead of more than 300 is going to be really nice,” Parent said.

However, if she wins Hell’s Kitchen and moves to Las Vegas, all bets are off.

“I hope she doesn’t win,” Arbour said. “I’d hate to have her leave to go to Vegas and run a kitchen for a quarter-million-dollar salary. But I would totally understand.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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