Joy Lewis/Reporter-News Ben Starr took time to taste every bite of his jalapeno cornbread at Joe Allens Pit Bar-B-Que on Thursday.
Joy Lewis/Reporter-News Ben Starr wore his pumpkin-decorated chef hat to the Wylie Bulldog Education Foundation fundraising dinner on Thursday.
Joy Lewis/Reporter-News Ben Starr savors every bite of his Joe Allens Pit Bar-B-Que brisket and jalapeno sausage at the restaurant on Thursday. Ive eaten BBQ in almost all 50 states and this is still the best, Starr said. Starr, a contestant on the Fox reality television show Master Chef, grew up in Abilene.
Millions of Fox viewers watched him compete this summer on reality cooking show “MasterChef,” but Abilene native Ben Starr performed for a much smaller audience Thursday night at the Wylie Bulldogs Education Foundation annual fundraiser.
The 2-year-old nonprofit foundation raises money for student scholarships and teacher grants for the Wylie Independent School District.
“We’re so excited to have him” said Becky Rentz, foundation president.
Starr grew up in the Big Country, graduated from Wylie High School in 1995 and went on to attend Abilene Christian University, pursuing a degree in theater. He has since made the Dallas area his home.
After auditioning against 30,000 people for Fox’s “MasterChef,” Starr managed to make it into the top five competitors, appearing on all 22 episodes of the show.
He returned to Abilene this week as a featured Wylie alumni.
Starr spent several minutes swapping hugs and stories with former teachers, including Linda Davis, before the event.
One of a handful of teachers Starr said he was most looking forward to seeing during his visit, Davis has been teaching for 35 years, 30 of them at Wylie.
“He takes my breath away,” she said of Starr. “If we had more students like Ben, teaching would be heaven.”
In her honors English class, he once put on a flower dress and a blond wig to portray Amanda Wingfield from “The Glass Menagerie.”
“It was priceless,” she said.
“Tonight you are in a room full of fans,” Davis said when she introduced him at the dinner, an introduction that Starr said left him teary-eyed. “People who love you and support you and can’t wait to hear what you have to say,”
Starr attributed his success in recent years to his teachers at Wylie who he said gave him endless support and encouragement.
“This place, the teachers here, are largely responsible for who I am today,” he said just before the event. “How to be fun, be diligent. I owe so much of who I am to them.”
Starr said he believes in the mission of the Wylie Bulldog Education Foundation, as he could not have attended college without scholarships himself.
“It’s a teacher’s job to inspire every single student to become the best they can be and then better,” he said, “that they can shape the world into whatever they want, that the entire world is their oyster.”
He added that while teachers can do a terrific job of inspiring and encouraging, financial boundaries sometimes do not allow for higher education.
He completed his appearance with a cooking demonstration, where he showed the audience how to make a five-minute chocolate lava cake in the microwave.
The foundation provided a handful of Wylie students with scholarships last year. Rentz said she expects this year’s event to yield about $75,000 for scholarships this year.
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