Chef Preston Bennett showed appreciation for recognition at the Perinton Community Center.
“Every time I come here and walk through that door I feel wanted,’’ Bennett said. “Other places I have worked, they just want you until they are done with you. Here they just make me feel appreciated and I’m just happy for the opportunity.”
That opportunity almost didn’t continue just a few months ago. Bennett is allergic to shellfish. While working at a restaurant in Victor in October, Bennett’s asthma started acting up so he used his inhaler. He forgot, however, to take off the gloves he was using to work with shellfish. His body started to shut down. He rushed home so his wife, Julie, a nurse, could save him.
Julie gave him CPR until emergency crews arrived and got him to Rochester General Hospital and the doctors saved him. Bennett was in the hospital for four days and out of work for a month as he recovered from broken ribs and emotional stress of the event.
“When you go through something like that, you have a better appreciation for everything,’’ Bennett said.
With all that behind him, Bennett, who has been part-time at PCC for 3 1/2 years, was made full time in January. He has hit the ground running, starting a cooking class for kids, adding breakfasts and lunches and planning more programs for seniors and preschoolers.
“We recognize his talent, not just as a cook, but as a great people person,” 55-plus Program Director Kelly Attridge said. “The volunteers that help him absolutely love him. I think more people participate in our programs because he is involved.”
Bennett, who graduated from Wilson High School, has never taken formal cooking classes. He did take some hotel management classes at Bryant and Stratton, but his love for cooking has always been there. As a 19-year-old, he worked at a Perkins as a dish washer when one night they asked him to help in the kitchen.
“I took that opportunity and ran with it,’’ Bennett said. “It helped me find my groove. I would go home and work with food and teach myself how to cook.”
Bennett receives praise for the meals he cooks seniors — his soup draws extra praise — but he said he learns more from his mistakes.
“Anyone can tell you, you can cook, but if someone complains about something, it makes me better,” Bennet said. “I respect that a lot. If I don’t get something right, I go back into the lab to work on it.”
Besides the cooking classes for kids, Bennett also holds cooking classes for seniors. He wants to put together a menu for Splash Parties, and he is working on other program ideas. He loves that Attridge gives him the freedom to develop his own programs.
“He really has changed the whole program,” said Recreation Director Jeff Nutting. “He is proactive and passionate about all the expansion he wants to do. When Kelly and Preston work together to generate new ideas, the results are always incredible.”
Bennett lives in Victor with his wife Julie and their children.