If the weather forecast can be believed, providence is already smiling on the first-ever Kern County Nut Festival this Saturday at the Kern County Museum. Temperatures are expected to be in the high 80s and low 90s, good news for the team of respected chefs who will demonstrate what can be done with almonds, pistachios and walnuts beyond popping them raw into your mouth.
The cooking demonstrations will take place at a pair of different areas, called the "Almond Shell" and "Pistachio Shell."
Alex Gomez at 10:30 a.m.: Gomez is a chef at Bakersfield College in charge of running the Food Service Department, which includes the cafeteria, catering, concessions and vending. Gomez attended culinary school in San Francisco at the California Culinary Academy.
Betty Chicca at 11:15 a.m.: Chicca, a lifelong Bakersfield resident, received her "formal" training from Josephine Colombana, the bella cuoco (Italian for beautiful cook) who raised her and her two sisters in east Bakersfield. She is married to Jerry Chicca, an almond and pistachio grower, who owns and operates Chicca Twin Farms. She is a happy homemaker and mother of four.
Steve Ruggenberg at 12:45 p.m.: After working from 1974-99 for the Golden Empire Transit District, Ruggenberg moved to the Napa Valley and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. There he applied himself to the art and science of baking. He works at Greystone to this day.
Leonard Gentieu at 1:30 p.m.: Gentieu is an honors graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. He has worked at prestigious venues like the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, Maisson Jaussaud's in Bakersfield and Stars Music Theater in Bakersfield. He is currently chef/owner of Papagallo Yacht Charter in Morro Bay and co-owner of Madagascar Spice & Trading Company, based in Bakersfield.
Ray Ingram at 2:15 p.m.: A professional baker, Ingram moved to Bakersfield in 1988, working at Stockdale Country Club, Sheraton Four Points Hotel, Patrick's Place, Kevin's at the Loft, and the Holiday Inn Select. He has served as the culinary instructor at Bakersfield Adult School and has worked in the kitchens of hotel casinos in Las Vegas.
Darci Atkinson at 3 p.m.: A Bakersfield native, Atkinson started working with the Buena Vista Elementary Edible Schoolyard in February 2011. As the kitchen manager at the Edible Schoolyard, she teaches schoolchildren how to prepare the food they have grown in the garden as well as how to eat healthy and seasonal foods. She studied at the Culinary Institute at Greystone in St. Helena.
Courtney Ghilarducci and Mai Giffard at 3:45 p.m.: Ghilarducci is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Pasadena and Giffard a graduate of The Art Institute of California. They met as co-workers, quickly became creative collaborators and took turns at two different jobs teaching and inspiring each other in different areas of baking, pastry, cooking and design.
Jeramy Brown at 4:30 p.m.: Brown, owner and chef at Valentien Restaurant & Wine Bar in Bakersfield, began his culinary career as a teen at his first job working with his grandmother at Chalet Basque. He also spent time living in Europe, culling much knowledge about food, beverage and service. Brown is pursuing his master sommelier title through the Court of Sommeliers.
Chef bios adapted from information provided by the Kern County Nut Festival