Chef Justin Warner has never forgotten his roots.
During several interviews with The Herald-Mail leading up to his "The Next Food Network Star" win in July, Warner has always made a point to include a "shout out" to his fellow Hagerstonians.
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And now just weeks after being selected as the next new face of Food Network, Warner is keeping his word. Sunday night he'll take part in the "Come to the Table" dinner and event at LJ's and the Kat Lounge in Hagerstown.
The $60 ticket price will include cooking demonstrations lead by Executive Chef Lonnie Coble and LJ's Chef de Cuisine Steven Farrell, as well as chefs Rachel Inman and Amanda Combs; live auction, raffle, four-course meal and a cash bar. A limited number of tickets are still available as of presstime Tuesday.
The event is a benefit for the Washington County Community Mediation Center, which provides mediation for those in the community for free, according to Jack Carpenter, the center's executive director.
Warner said he's been familiar with the mediation center while a student at South Hagerstown High School. He met Dave Gysberts, current president of the mediation center's board, while a student there.
"He was in charge of alternative learning opportunities — read: in-school suspension —I was there often enough," Warner said during a telephone interview from New York. "He and I would talk often about life's problems, and why I was the way I was and what was going on."
Gysberts said Warner was by no means one of the at-risk kids in his classes. He said he met Warner when he was a junior in high school, and Gysberts was an instructional assistant at South High. Warner and his group of friends needed an adviser for Destination Imagination as well as the academic team and approached Gysberts, who agreed.
"He always had that energy," Gysberts said of Warner. "He had so much energy that he couldn't stay in his seat. If he had a question to ask, he had to ask it. He just had this constant creative buzz."
After Warner graduated South High in 2002, he and Gysberts have continued to stay in touch.
"We've been friends since," Warner said. "He keeps me informed of the goings on of Hagerstown."
About four years ago, Gysberts said on a cross-country trip he stopped in Denver to see Warner, who said he planned to move to New York City. On the way back, Gysberts picked up Warner so he could make his big move.
Gysberts said he never doubted for a moment that Warner was going to win "The Next Food Network Star."
"He has the juice, and he has what's going on," Gysberts said.
Warner said he's happy to be part of the event, especially for the mediation center.
"I think it's a very good organization," he said. "It's cool that something like this exists in a small town. You can see that kind of infrastructure exist in major cities, but to have it in a small town is really ideal."
Carpenter is excited to have the national celebrity come be a part of the center's fundraiser.
"It's over the top," he said. "We're growing as a center. We help people resolve their conflict at no costs. We're growing by leaps and bounds. The demands we have are exceeding our resources. To have Justin come back here and help with this fundraiser is not only a financial boom, but a great psychological shot in the arm."
Carpenter said the Washington County Community Mediation Center has overseen 260 mediations since the beginning of 2012, with each mediation involving a minimum of two and as many as eight participants.