Mary Pagan, who founded the Culinary Center of Monterey on Cannery Row, who recently was named Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation for the Monterey Bay Area, recently met Mariella Sierra.
The vivacious 4-year-old entered the spotlight last fall when The Herald shared the story of a child who came into the world the usual way but has appeared, since birth, quite unusual; a child whose multiple surgeries and extensive examinations are nothing compared to the daily reminder by frightened children and startled adults that she is somehow ... different, odd, ugly, wrong.
What Pagan saw that day is what the local community is continuing to discover about Mariella; she is dynamic and determined and delighted as she tears through her day with little regard for her differences. Her problems are a lot bigger than she is, and most of them are not visible. But her mother, Kathy Sierra, and her sister, 10-year-old Katrina Sierra, carry the concern for her. Chef Pagan is one of them. Aware that Mariella is awaiting the award of a trip to Disneyland from the Make A Wish Foundation, Pagan decided to host "Mariella's Marketplace," a trailside farmers market, bake sale and barbecue to raise money to help make the little girl's trip to the "Happiest Place on Earth" just a little more special.
Friday, April 10, the chef welcomes the community to stop by "Mariella's Marketplace" just outside the Culinary Center for a hot dog, a head of lettuce and a whole lot of goodwill. Throughout the day, the center will provide cooking demonstrations and raffle off free cooking classes.
Now in its ninth year, the Culinary Center of Monterey trains people to be chefs. Operating at four levels of education, this accredited, private, postsecondary school also offers custom classes for groups, businesses or organizations, as well as food styling and recipe development. The center also opens its restaurant to the public on Thursdays and Fridays.
"I think a lot of people know we're here," said Pagan, "but they may have been confused about what we actually do. We train and put a lot of people to work in this area. We are so fortunate to have the seafood and wine and fresh produce right here, in our backyard, to work with. We do a lot of healthy eating programs for kids. But this weekend, the kid we're focusing on is Mariella. I think of my own family, my own kids, and how healthy they are. I can't imagine how I'd cope with all that Mariella's family does. I'm glad I have the resources in the Culinary Center to do something for them."
Read the full story here.