Sometimes a person is compelled to follow an instinct, pursuit or mission without exactly knowing why. At times, it is thrust upon us for no apparent reason … or is it? Whatever the case, occasionally it can take hold of you and become a duty. Such may have been the case for Executive Chef Brendan Gochenour of the Jockey Club at Ruidoso Downs Race Track when he initially founded the White Apron Club.
“As chefs we attempt to create memories for people,” he explained. “Something that customers can fondly recall long afterward. I wanted to start an organization whereby local chefs could get together and have a sense of camaraderie. We, in this profession, are usually in our own bubble. We concentrate on our own exigencies, wanting to conceive excellent edible fare.”
“I originally perceived the name the White Apron Club from a Benjamin Franklin organization designated the Leather Apron Club. It was a group of craftsmen who wanted to get together to discuss new ideas. My first aim was to establish cooking classes for young adults and to teach them the lost art of food preparation. A couple of years later, Coleen Widell, the executive director of the Nest at the time, suggested the name White Apron Society. She thought the word club suggested a collection of people together merely to have fun. Hence, I changed the name to its current title and trademarked it.”
The White Apron Society’s mission statement is “to serve our community with our talents and teach youths the basics of nutrition through cooking; providing inspiration and encouragement in developing the next generation of chefs; holding strong to the belief that the service of one’s self will advance the well-being of humankind, community and the world.”
Currently, the White Apron Society has about 10 members from the Ruidoso area and expects to expand. Also, Gochenour would like to see his faction spread to other communities. He is presently working with chef Jim Bradburn to form a White Apron Society chapter in White Sands. “In the beginning I could always count on chef Shawn Seymour of Chef Shawn’s Eatery in midtown Ruidoso (at 2415 Sudderth) to help out when he was needed,” Gochenour confided. “He was always willing and able to give assistance, even if it was out of his own pocket. We then started pulling in additional chef contacts to get planned charity work achieved.”
Gochenour was born and raised in Ruidoso. “This area was always good to me, so I wanted to give something back,” he disclosed. “Our first big opportunity to lend a helping hand came when the Little Bear Fire of June 2012 struck.” Innumerable volunteers, led by Gochenour and the late chef Perry Champion, commenced to cook and serve food to hundreds of displaced residents, local firemen and hotshots from around the country.
From that catastrophic fire, the White Apron Society went on to serve the Nest, a local abuse shelter. The Nest’s Executive Director Coleen Widell approached Gochenour with a plan to raise money for the needs of the Nest. This collaboration culminated in the inception of the Empty Bowl, a soup competition that brought home cooks and restaurant chefs together for a culinary competition replete with silent auctions and handmade pottery bowls.
“We have done some other things, like giving schools nutritional guidance,” Gochenour said. “We have helped with fundraisers to support the culinary department of a high school. In other efforts, in 2015 we raised $30,000. Think how great that would be in other towns for all the people. I think that is truly possible.”
He continued, “There’s one paramount trait chefs are generally known for. They are accomplished organizational people. Let’s say a party of 50 suddenly arrives at your restaurant and want hors d’oeuvres. You hurriedly get a team together, develop a plan and give it 110 percent. In the off-time, why not use your God-given talents to make your community a better place? Using our skills, chefs have to roll with the punches. It’s in our DNA to control situations like costs, creativity, employees, etc. We want to make people happy. Most chefs are that way.”
Last December, the White Apron Society sold cookies to raise money for Ella Glass, a 15-year-old high school student who was diagnosed with the rare Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer. It turned a $1,400 cost into $7,000 to aid the Glass family. (See her story on page 6 in this issue of Focus on Ruidoso.) In March 2016, Gochenour’s group hosted a successful fundraiser to help save a Ruidoso landmark, the Old Mill.
Besides his personal life (he is married with six children–three daughters and three sons) and his responsibilities at the Jockey Club, he still finds the time to give of himself and is fully committed to helping people in need. He has recently announced that the White Apron Society events have been so successful that other events are being planned months to a year in advance.