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City Lights: Native returns to culinary dreams

June 16, 2010

One of the most most oft-quoted statements in American literature is F. Scott Fitzgerald's comment "There are no second acts in American lives." With a little pluck and perseverance, it's also one of the easiest statements to disprove. For this week's Exhibit A, turn to Sally Cameron, the Huntington Beach native who is among the chefs competing in a nationwide event to benefit food banks.

Cameron, who graduated from Edison High School and lives in Las Flores, grew up in culinary surroundings. As a child, she saved empty boxes and cans and played grocery store with her brother; her prize toy was an Easy-Bake Oven.

Despite taking summer cooking classes at age 11, though, Cameron never pursued her dream of attending culinary school. Until she was 45, that is. In 2002, she began taking evening and weekend classes at the Art Institute of California while working a technology job full-time during the week. Finally, four years later, she quit the job and launched her own personal chef and catering business, Everyday Gourmet.

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Now, Cameron is among 24 chefs in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C. competing in the Sears Chef Challenge, in which contestants give four in-store cooking demonstrations and post videos of their craft online. Cameron, a member of the United States Personal Chef Assn., applied for the contest and made the cut.

After two years of combining "full-time school and full-time corporate America," as she put it, Cameron couldn't be more exhilarated.

"I have found I am perfectly fit for this and having a ball," she said. "It's something that's come very naturally to me. I enjoy teaching, and I enjoy cooking for people and turning them on to how to cook a good meal."

From June 26 to July 10, Cameron's videos will be posted at http://www.searschefchallenge.com, and online votes will determine if she goes on to the next level. If Cameron emerges as one of the four quarterfinal winners, she will win a kitchen appliance of her choice and $5,000 for her chosen food bank or food-related charity.

The contest's ultimate winner will divert $20,000 to their chosen charity, win four appliances and even get a kitchen renovation. Cameron plans to divert her earnings to the Saddleback Food Pantry.

Fitzgerald may have led a gloomier life than some, but he was right that after a certain age, it's easy to feel that our possibilities have narrowed. Stories like Cameron's show that that's not necessarily the case. Whether we're right out of college or halfway to retirement age, it's never too late to pick up that youthful dream again.

Or, as Cameron put it: "It's kind of like going home."

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