Cooking With Love

Besides the Meadowcreek High School students who are already scheduled to report to her classes throughout the day, it is a regular occurrence for alumni, aspiring chefs, industry professionals and faculty to pay Culinary Arts Instructor Chef Simone Byron a visit. Their reasons for stopping by range from simply saying hello, to getting a dose of Chef Simone’s humorous, yet authoritative instruction; or simply catching a whiff and—if lucky—a forkful of whatever delectable dish is being prepared. Her laboratory is a recently erected state-of-the-art kitchen rivaling the most upscale restaurants in Atlanta, courtesy of the Gwinnett County School System that realized the potential of her current and future students. Chef Simone and her pupils have garnered accolades and awards locally and nationally in her brief three-year tenure.

Chef Simone, age 32 and a graduate of the Atlanta Art Institute, is devoted to her diverse student body and reminds them they are all one family, and she graciously accepts the role as the mama. She can’t help it. It’s in her blood.

When our great grandfather Cyril Byron Sr. served as the executive chef on Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line on the way to America by way of Jamaica, he went on to start the Byron Catering Company in Bronx, New York, during the early 1900s. Since its inception, the Byrons’ Thanksgivings were on Saturdays because they had to work on the traditional Thursdays, leading to a family tradition that is still honored.

Chef Simone’s mother Brenda Byron was an incredible elementary school teacher for more than 40 years earning numerous accolades in education and appearing on national television shows including the CBS Morning News and the Oprah Winfrey Show; the latter reunited Brenda with one of her students from decades ago while she was instructing her third grade class at Hapeville Elementary School in front of millions of viewers. (Simone was an honorary student in the background at age 8 that day.) Fittingly, mom was also a phenomenal cook who perfectly reinvented recipes she came across in cookbooks, magazines and eventually online. Before Brenda’s passing from the unforgiving return of cancer the day before Thanksgiving in 2012, Simone was by her side mentally recording every chop, stir and dash of spice.

Even I, Simone’s oldest brother, played a small role by sharing what I learned at one of the most lauded hospitality institutions in the world, Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.

We all knew Simone was destined for greatness. Now, others are investing in Simone’s prerogative to provide her Meadowcreek students with a future.

World-class hotels including Loews Atlanta provide her wide-eyed pupils tours of their hectic back-of-the-house operations; restaurants such as Surin of Thailand, Foundation Social Eatery, and South City Kitchen host heavily discounted—if not free—dining experiences; esteemed Atlanta-based culinary authorities such as Certified Master Chef Daryl Shular and Westminster Academy Executive Chef Eric Centeno happily give lectures on what their occupations demand; culinary-themed field trips hundreds of miles away in cities such as Philadelphia, Pa., occur annually; and Publix, United Way, the Gwinnett Health Department and Vulcan have recently funded a Meadowcreek High School community garden Chef Simone wrote a proposal to support neighborhood sustainability.

And when her students are not winning silver and gold medals during regional and national culinary competitions, Chef Simone balances being a National ProStart Invitational Competition coach and the perfect mother of her 8-year-old son, Cameron, who is also destined to be a chef. Oh, and she is also catering for realty gurus, politicians, lawyers, corporations, and school officials to name a few under her burgeoning company Dishful Thinking.

Ultimately, Chef Simone does her best to use the finest, freshest and most flavorful ingredients for anything she serves up, but the one that is the most immeasurable is love, and her students, growing clientele, and family savor it with every heavenly bite.

Dennis is a monthly contributor to Lifestyle Publications and, while honoring his sister, they would also like to pay respects to Chef Simone Byron’s lead student and mentee for four years before his tragic death in a car accident, Abdirahman Bashir.