The art of cooking


A chef or a cook working in a restaurant is known as a culinarian. Culinary artists are responsible for skillfully preparing meals that are a pleasing to the palate as to the eye. Today, we can easily flip through the television channels to find cooking programs from The Pioneer Woman to Hell’s Kitchen. It takes a master in most cases to make their mark in the culinary field and many vie to be the next one discovered.

Making her mark in the culinary arts program in our area is Denese Toler, instructor at West Rusk High School. Her program has been called unique, unusual and wonderful from those who have tasted and watched her students in action.

“It is just one of many classes that fall under the umbrella of Family Consumer Sciences,” explains Denese. “There was not a program set up when I started teaching at West Rusk and it is one that I brought in and helped develop. We didn’t go into competition at first but now compete in the Family, Career & Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) an organizational change in 1999 from Future Homemakers of America.

This year, Denese expects to be working with 80-90 students. “We cater to local churches, wedding events, library events, and anniversaries. We have done the Overton/New London Chamber of Commerce banquet for three years in a row as well as all school board and teacher events. We do at least 4-5 big events then 100 or so smaller events through the year. You call us and we keep them happy,” she laughed.

“First-year students will not get to compete unless there is one that is exceptionally talented,” she said. “We compete in FCCLA Star Events and since we started we have had five cooking teams make it to state level and a couple of year’s back one student won a first place trophy and a $1,000 grant from the Pro Start Texas Restaurant Association.

“I am a member of the Queen Price Garden Club in Overton,” said LeAnn Bazar. “Last year our club hosted a “Santa Clause” art exhibit by artist Billy Keen. The open house was catered by the Culinary Arts Department at West Rusk. Wow! They did such a professional job. The food was incredible and the students did an amazing job serving and sharing their love of culinary arts. Their work made such an impression on me and other members of the club. We gladly support them.”

Denese is in her 22nd year of teaching, having taught the first 14 years in Henderson at the school from which she graduated. She then attended Stephen F. Austin University.

Denese is married to Embrey Toler and lives in Overton. The couple has no children but plenty of nieces and nephews and with 80-90 students per year, who would have time for more?

“I would not trade it for anything else in the world and I enjoy every minute of it,” said Denese. Make them happy – give them a call.

REALTORS Caryn Couch, Reane Walker and Kim Wright were definitely having fun with the staff at Memi D’s Drive Thru as Julie Woods & Associates Real Estate Firm bought coffee products for each person going through the drive between specific time slots on Thursday. No, they were not trying to sell a home on the spot, but instead meeting and greeting each person in the vehicles like long-lost friends; some of them were. It was a hot job and leave it to these gals to make it into a fun time.

SPEAKING OF DRIVE-THRU - Brookshire Grocery in Overton definitely needed one Thursday evening as their e-mail blast regarding a sale on fried chicken and fixin’s came through from Damon Nichols, Store Director.

Damon is a pretty smart cookie as he sent that out at 10:39 a.m. You know, right before lunch and I sat here all day thinking about that golden fried chicken and how easy it would be to change a route home to swing by and get in on the deal of the week.

I even counted the meals I could get out of that bucket and that gallon of tea that went with all the rest of the stuff just cinched the deal for this ole southern gal.

Needless-to-say it was closing in on 6:30 p.m. when I hit the outskirts of Overton and if memory served me right the deli closed at 6.

Disillusionment was setting in quickly but, the thoughts of that chicken made me pull in to ask the hours for the next day and lo and behold, I found a line of people after that chicken!

I started counting the pieces left after the ones in front of me received theirs and knew enough would not be left. Fortunately, one of the ladies in the deli said, “Wait, I have some in the warmer and another batch to fry if you can give me a few minutes. Let me count first.”

At that point a young man behind me spoke up to let her know he would like to have some chicken, too. She came back and informed us she had enough for one more and had dropped the new batch in the fryer. This is one time being older won out, folks. That gentleman offered to wait on the new batch!

As the smell filled the store, others fell in behind him and as I was moving out of the way the store manager came and asked the deli lady what she was doing still at work. “Frying chicken,” she replied gleefully as if it was the first batch of the day. Let me tell you this, forget the fixin’s until later, I had a piece of that chicken ate as soon as I got through my front door.

May His Love and Laughter Fill Your Hearts and Homes Throughout the Week. In the meantime, we may be reached at 903-984-2593 or


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