April 07, 2020

TV chef cooks up message of diet, exercise

BUCKSPORT – Using the principal, teachers and pupils as assistants and comic foils, celebrity chef Jon Ashton energized the Bucksport Middle School with an entertaining presentation that used jokes and pratfalls to promote healthful eating habits.

Ashton asked Principal Tom Jandreau to help him cook a breakfast wrap using scrambled eggs, vegetables, salsa and cheese. It’s not often kids get to laugh at the principal, but they hooted loudly when Jandreau had trouble figuring out how to get a microwave oven to work, and Ashton made faces while Jandreau tried.

When seventh-grade science teacher Jen Skala and seventh-grade math teacher Bob Valenoti were called onstage to sample a cheese and apple quesadilla, Ashton quickly cajoled them into an impromptu dance routine, a sight that had the pupils roaring with laughter.

“I really liked him,” Molly Hunt, a 13-year old eighth-grader from Bucksport, said after the assembly. “He was really funny and informative. I didn’t know you could made eggs in a microwave.”

The British-born Ashton, who has his own cooking television show in Florida and has appeared on “The Tonight Show,” “Today,” Food Network and Discovery Channel, has devoted much of his career to spreading the message of healthful eating to schoolchildren.

Obese and picked on as a teenager in Liverpool, England, the now slim Ashton visits schools on behalf of the Vermont dairy cooperative Cabot Creamery. Ninety-nine Maine dairy farms belong to Cabot’s cooperative.

Ashton told the pupils he knew firsthand how painful it is to be taunted for being overweight and urged them to never make fun of other people. He also told them that dairy products were an ideal source of calcium and that they must include calcium in their diets if they want strong bones and long, healthy lives.

To illustrate the importance of a diet rich with calcium, Ashton lined up 10 boys and 10 girls and asked their classmates to guess which percentage of them were not getting enough calcium. To their dismay, none of them guessed the right answer. Ninety percent of the country’s girls and 70 percent of its boys do not get the required amount of calcium, he said.

“At your age, your bones are growing, and it’s the most important time to get calcium in the bones,” Ashton told the 300 middle school pupils.

Ashton fell in love with America at an early age and though it took him years to get his green card – he once sent a package of home-baked cookies to the White House as a bribe – he finally was able to immigrate here permanently six years ago.

Ashton said that while he had been offered opportunities to open his own restaurants, he felt that going into that kind of business would cut into his plans to work with children. He said he always wanted to work his love of cooking into school programs and believes that by doing so he is repaying the country that welcomed him. He said the words of John F. Kennedy about doing something for your country “are tattooed on the inside of my mind. … America has adopted me, and it’s important to give back to this country I love.”

Ashton told the pupils that if they watch their calories and maintain a healthful diet they will enjoy a healthy life. And it doesn’t hurt to exercise as well, he said, especially, dancing.

When he asked the pupils if the moonwalk was still cool, he received a resounding “no” in reply. He got the same answer when he went through a series of varying dance steps. It was only when eighth-grader Alan Michael Eastman, 13, of Bucksport jumped onto the stage and demonstrated a few slick moves did Ashton get the response he was looking for.

“If you eat well it’s a jolly good chance you’re going to feel good for years,” he told the gathering. “We’re all made of skin and bones, we all have a choice when we eat and what we’re eating. This is your future and it’s important we all make healthy choices.”

Correction: This article ran on page C2 in the Coastal edition.

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