TCFD Resident Chefs Chop Our World-Renowned Chief of DNA

Imagine taking on a world-renowned Italian chef and beating him in a cook-off? That’s what happened right here at TCFD – all thanks to our Self-Advoacy Group (SAG). 

In the final round of an on-campus cooking competition, our 10 member SAG Team chopped our very own Chief of our Department of Noursihment Arts, Chef Cesare Casella. 

“It was wonderful to see them in friendly, but sincere competition with each other, then with Chef Cesare,” commented TCFD Behavior Analyst and staff leader of the SAG Team, Stephanie Parsons,“There was a spirit of camaraderie and happiness throughout both events – among the self advocates, their rivals, and the support staff – that was lovely to see and share.”

The idea for the two-part competition began with a simple conversation between TCFD Recreational Therapist, Erin Atkins, and Chef Casella. The first cookoff involved the SAG team splitting into two teams and cooking against each other with support from Casella, his team, and other therapists. With their confidence running high, they turned up the heat and directly challenged Cesare.


“I was so proud of these amazing teams. They worked very hard on their dishes in that first competition and the food was delicious, but more importantly the determination they brought to the kitchen, and their sense of joy in their accomplishment, was the true gift to us all,” said Chef Casella.

The SAG Team divided up for their kitchen duel against Cesare. Five SAG members devoted their time to food prep with the Recreation team by their side. “Using both standard and adapted equipment, the team mixed, chopped, and cooked their way to victory. Each team member was assigned tasks that highlighted their ability in the kitchen,” Erin said, “We used a switch activated ECU paired with a standard food processor and mixer, and an adapted pourer for those who rely on switch use to participate.” Five additional team members did the cooking and plating.


The key ingredient was “something from a chicken,” Erin said, “It was really important that we chose an ingredient that everyone could relate to and share ideas about.” The menu? The winning appetizer by the team was hot honey chicken and biscuits. The entrée was caramel chicken with rice, roasted butternut, and pumpkin seeds, and the winning dessert – creamy eggnog ice cream. Chef Cesare’s menu brought out the best of Italy with Pontormo Bruschetta as an appetizer, Classic Risotto, Chicken Thighs, Green Tapenade and Crème Brulee with Candied Chicken Skin (dust).

The team really relished their big win over our top chef Casella. “It was awesome,” said SAG Executive Chef, Kadeidra Deas, “We can’t wait to do it again!”

“This event was a delicious example of what The Center is all about. It brought together our incredible DNA team, with Cesare as its Chief, our Self Advocacy Group, Residential Associates, and Occupational, Behavioral, and Recreation Therapists who facilitated in every way possible – including the use of adaptive equipment from our Innovation Labs Department. To be in a room with such tenacity and drive and talent is life-altering and a lesson for everyone.” said Cookoff Judge and TCFD CEO, Patrick H. Dollard.

First Cookoff