Dallas College student and chef Lisa Roark gives a Dallas College Cooks! demonstration at Dallas Arboretum.
Contact: Cherie Yurco;
For immediate release — Jan. 5, 2021
(DALLAS) — The city of Garland recently honored Dallas College Culinary, Pastry and Hospitality student Lisa Roark with its Sustainability Leader Award. From organic farming to zero-waste to advocating for the food insecure and Citizens’ Climate Lobby, sustainability touches all aspects of her life. As a chef, she shares her passion for holistic food and plant-based recipes through cooking demonstrations at the Dallas Arboretum.
Roark enjoys teaching others about sustainability. One of those topics is zero-waste. Through recycling, reusing, composting and refusing, she and her husband throw out only about half a bag of trash a week.
She challenges others to start small. “Bring tote bags with you to the store and to school. If you stop for a bagel, have them put it in your cloth bag or bring your own snack. Carry your own coffee mug or water bottle,” she suggests.
Urban gardens that Dallas College student Lisa Roark developed behind the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center
Among Roark’s passions is her work with underserved communities in and around Dallas. She is proud of a garden she developed behind the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center. For about 10 years, she’s been volunteering with North Texas Food Bank, helping with community gardens and most recently with pandemic relief.
“A lot of people need food — a lot of people who have never had to go to a food pantry,” she said. “Not only do they need food, they need compassion as well.
Roark wasn’t always so focused on food and sustainability. She was working in the natural beauty product industry when she became fascinated by ingredients. “Every season, something cool and new would be discovered,” she said.
This led her to consider the effect healthy ingredients could have on our bodies. She founded her own permaculture farm, Ike & Eli’s Organic Farm, LLC. With permaculture, you strategically plant in spirals, rather than in rows, and no chemicals are used, she explained. The root systems feed off each other. For example, you plant things such as marigolds next to eggplant, which attract the same pollinators. Or you can plant lemon balm as a barrier to keep wasps out.
Then, at age 29, Roark developed anaphylactic shock as a result of a sudden allergy to nuts. “I had been eating tree nuts and peanuts all my life,” she said. “I got scared of going to restaurants and started cooking at home. Suddenly, all the pieces came together — I liked cooking, I was fascinated with ingredients, and I liked growing things.”
In 2018, she enrolled in training at Dallas College El Centro Campus. Culinary school is a lot of work, said Roark, but everyone, starting with Food and Hospitality Institute Director Steve DeShazo, is very supportive. She said faculty members are eager to share their work experiences and help students find their way.
“I have really enjoyed chef Knifong,” she said. “Once I told him I never worked in a professional kitchen before, he took me under his wing and showed me how to use the different equipment
and told me that I needed to toughen up my hands!” He also made it his mission to ensure Roark was safe from exposure to nuts while in school.
Finding Her Niche
Roark knew she didn’t want to spend her nights and weekends in a restaurant. “Sheila Hyde [food and hospitality service instructor] was wonderful. She helped me realize that I would love educating people,” said Roark.
Roark graduated with dual degrees in December 2020: an A.A.S. in Culinary Arts as well as an A.A.S. in Food and Hospitality Management. “Everything in management is so fluid; you really have to stay on top of your game,” she said. “I knew the retail perspective, but I really wanted to learn about the hospitality management industry and kitchen inventory.”
Roark has already begun teaching others. In 2019, she heard about cooking demonstrations at Dallas Arboretum’s A Tasteful Place and reached out to chef DeShazo to volunteer. He invited her to take over the presentations.
“Lisa’s background in urban agriculture made her participation with Dallas College Cooks! at the Arboretum a natural fit. She is an incredible example of the kind of high-performing student who thrives in our program and goes on to do great things for our community,” said DeShazo.
It was a natural transition for Roark. “I’ve always been comfortable in front of an audience,” she said, adding that it is easy to keep their attention when you are cooking, chopping and stirring.
The plant-based recipes are all her own creations. The first seasons were inspired by her husband. “When I started at the Arboretum, he had just been diagnosed with throat cancer,” she said, adding that he’s in remission now. “These were things I cooked for him that were easy to digest, easy on the throat, extremely nourishing and full of flavor.”
“I want culinary students to know that you’re never too old, nor too young,” she said. “And, it doesn’t just have to be cooking.” The students who have graduated through the program do many different things — teaching and demonstrations, food research, catering, baking as well as food service management for a wide variety of facilities.
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