Evelyn Cheatham, who founded Santa Rosa’s Worth Our Weight culinary training program, has died. According to Chef Duskie Estes, who was a close friend of Cheatham’s, the visionary chef and non-profit director, passed Thursday night.
“Evelyn was a person who was truly good,” said Estes. “She was a role model on how to be. She always picked me up and pulled me forward.”
It’s a huge blow for the culinary community. Cheatham was a mentor both to the at-risk youth who she patiently taught cooking skills at WOW, as well as a touchstone for chefs like Estes and many others.
“She was such an angel,” said Chef John Ash. “She was such an iconoclast, because she had her own vision, and luckily for us, it was about helping young people. She was ahead of her time.”
“She was one of our heroes. I’m just devastated,” said Josh Silvers, of Jackson’s Bar and Oven in Santa Rosa.
Silvers said he met Cheatham at a youth probation camp, where she was a chef. Even then, she was working with youth at the camp to teach them cooking skills.
“She was teaching them to be good people, not just cooks,” said Silvers. “She was teaching them to be kind and generous.”
Silvers also said that many chefs cooked dinners at WOW as fundraisers, and were eager to help whenever they got a call from her.
“Anytime she needed help, we wanted to be there,” he said.
Cheatham and I had a personal relationship as well. She loved it when I wrote about her students, and in turn, she was a mentor and inspiration. Though she could be direct, she also always had a hug and a smile. She didn’t suffer fools, but she was patient when I acted like one. In the first days of the Tubbs fire, as I ran around Franchetti’s restaurant trying to figure out how to organize chefs and feed disaster survivors, she sat quietly at the table next to me offering up help and advice on how to handle the emergency.
A little bit of Evelyn lives in so many that continue her work. We will miss her dearly.