There were cheers and tears as the crowd gathered around Texas Lutheran University’s executive Chef Ernest Servantes; winner of Food Network’s Chopped Grill Masters. The viewing party served as a reminder to Servantes that he had arrived. With close friends and family by his side, everyone watched as he took home the win and $50,000.
           
“Having everybody there to watch me win and to see their reactions was amazing,” Servantes said. “The whole place went crazy and when I saw how proud my family was, especially my kids, it was the greatest part. It was a humbling experience and at the end of the day it wasn’t about winning the money. It was about gaining respect as a chef.”
           
While Chef Servantes, a Texas State University graduate, has taken his credentials to another level, there are many people who have respected his talent for quite some time. Sodexo sous chef and best friend Anthony Hernandez was happy to share the moment with his long-time pal.
           
“It was very emotional for everyone,” Hernandez said. “Ernie is my best friend and a great chef. I’ve known him for eight years, five of which we’ve been together at TLU. He’s awesome at improvising and coming up with the weirdest, best-tasting food. I knew he’d do well on Chopped.”
           
Hernandez and Servantes also work together on the New Braunfels, Texas- based Burnt Bean BBQ Company. As both colleague and friend, Hernandez says Chef Servantes has always and continues to push him toward becoming great.
           
“I’m always learning from him,” Hernandez said. “He tells me to work hard and pushing me is the best thing he’s ever done. He’s a wonderful teacher. Although now, we joke I’ll have to take a ticket number to talk to my famous best friend.”
           
Kim Smith, operations manager for Sodexo at TLU, was also confident Servantes would come out victorious.
           
“After six years of working together, his creativity and ability to create dishes on the fly are very impressive,” Smith said. “Sodexo is very proud of him. At TLU, every day is a different adventure in Hein Dining Hall. It’s extremely rewarding to see students congratulating him because he has developed relationships with them. We’re lucky to have him.”
           
Although Chef Servantes can now tout that he is the Chopped Grill Master, he says this opportunity was only the beginning. His triumph opened doors for him to continue excelling in the culinary world.
           
“Besides winning, I wanted to show viewers that I’m just a hometown boy with a passion for cooking,” Servantes said. “I was just me on camera and I hope that came across. As for my plans now, I made a promise to my kids and my nephew that if I won we’d go to Disney World. This opportunity changed my life and I’m very blessed.”


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Beth Barry
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Robin Bisha
Dr. Robin Bisha has found a way to pair her love for animals with teaching. The communication studies professor’s unique approach to studying leadership involves students in the practice of animal welfare with rescue dogs. The benefits of animal companionship come to life in her Communication Studies 332 course Leadership For Social Change. “We can learn skills that are relevant to our human relationships through our relationships with animals,” Bisha said. “We think about leadership in terms of business and government, but I want students to see how studying positive reinforcement with animals can open our minds when it comes to leadership. People must have trust in those who lead them. I believe my class shows how conflict resolution and building relationships with animals translate to how we interact with other humans.”

Annette Citzler
Growing up, Dr. Annette Citzler spent many days on her grandparents' farm. From pickling vegetables and making cookies to butchering meat and churning butter, those experiences showed her the true meaning of farm to table. This TLU business professor’s passion for recipes and baking started with her love for the social aspect of food. She wants people to get past the vicarious thrill of cooking and get into the personal thrill of producing a meal. “Cooking is done out of love,” Dr. Citzler says. “We make food for others so we can enjoy meals with them. People have been coming together to share meals since our earliest history, building cultures and families around food. I want students to explore and understand the meaning of food in our lives.”

Michelle Dorsey
Working with the Black & Gold President’s Council is like being a parent over and over again for TLU’s First Lady Michelle Dorsey. Inspired by her mother’s encouraging nature, Michelle wants students to have both an academic and social education. From etiquette to wardrobe, students who serve on the President’s Council develop social leadership. By involving them in various University events, they learn how to interact with people and gain confidence in social situations. “We’re committed to turning out a whole person,” says Dorsey. “TLU is transformative. When you see the change in these students from the time they join the council to the time they leave, it’s wonderful. They have lots to offer and with the right tools, they really shine.”

Rodrick Shao
When Rodrick Shao moved to the U.S. from Tanzania two decades ago, he saw endless opportunities. He also noticed how basic needs like food, shelter, and education were sometimes taken for granted. Now an instructional technologist, giving back to those less fortunate remains his passion. For the past 10 years, he and his wife Elly have raised funds and awareness for orphans in Tanzania. “Our hearts go out to these children,” says Shao. “AIDS has wiped out a generation of young parents. Their children are now the responsibility of society. I encourage people to look at their own lives, what they’ve been given, and how they can return the favor. I was given the chance to succeed and they deserve the same.”