Cooking up celebrity connections

Guy Fieri and Michael Jaxtimer-Barry

Michael Jaxtimer-Barry’s culinary expertise reached new heights this winter, as he competed alongside peers and celebrity chefs on Food Network’s “Guy’s Grocery Games.”

Jaxtimer-Barry, a Milton resident, works in Cushing’s food service department. He and two other Best Buddies participants, Cassidy Bauer and Chris Harrington, were featured in a special holiday episode of “Guy’s Grocery Games,” which is hosted by culinary star Guy Fieri.

“It gives me goosebumps,” said Fieri, during the episode. “I’ve known these kids for going on 12, 13 years now. To have them here is pretty amazing.”

Jaxtimer-Barry first met Fieri 13 years ago when he was invited to cook alongside him during a celebrity chef tailgate at Harvard University, which kicked off the Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port event, an annual walk/ride fundraiser for the nonprofit. Fieri, a longtime Best Buddies global ambassador, mentioned on the show that Michael was the first person who came and cooked with him at a Best Buddies event.

“It’s been a lot of fun, meeting him,” said Jaxtimer-Barry. “He’s a nice guy.”

“He’s every bit as genuine and authentic as he appears to be,” said Michael’s mother, Joanne Jaxtimer, who serves on Cushing’s board of directors. “Guy tells the story all the time that Michael was one of the first people he met with intellectual disabilities. He saw Michael working as his sous chef at that Harvard event and thought ‘this guy really knows what he’s doing.’”

In addition to being a Best Buddies participant, Jaxtimer-Barry is a Special Olympics medalist in skiing. A graduate of Milton Public Schools, he trained in the food service program at Cushing while he was in high school, and he also took a 12-week evening course in cooking at Cushing. He later went on to work in the kitchen at Davio’s, but returned to Cushing, where he has worked for nearly eight years on the culinary team under Gerry Fanning, Cushing’s director of food service.

“Michael’s experience at Cushing has truly been transformative,” said Jaxtimer. “It set him on a path toward meaningful employment. It’s awesome.”

As the contestants walked onto the set of the show, which was filmed in Santa Rosa, Calif., they were paired with their celebrity chefs for the first time. Jaxtimer-Barry worked with Maneet Chauhan, a Food Network regular who has established herself as a go-to figure when it comes to Indian cuisine and spices. Jaxtimer-Barry, who loves to cook classic comfort food, also loves adding spice, so they were a perfect match.

“We had a lot of fun cooking together,” he said.

They had 60 minutes to make a holiday entrée and dessert featuring two special ingredients chosen from Fieri’s holiday sample tables, plus whatever other ingredient they could fit into two holiday stockings.

For their entrée, Jaxtimer-Barry and Chauhan prepared fried turkey roulade, mac n’ cheese with gingerbread cookie panko topping and eggnog mashed potatoes. For dessert, they prepared a pumpkin pie ice cream. The judges were all impressed by the original twists on the traditional holiday offerings.

“I think, Michael, we need to get your name on a box of eggnog mashed potatoes going,” said Fieri. “That’s well done, my friend.”

Though Bauer earned the winning prize of $15,000, Jaxtimer-Barry was recognized with a $5,000 donation in his name to Best Buddies.

“It was pretty cool,” Jaxtimer-Barry said of his first television appearance. “People will see me now and say ‘I saw you on TV.’”

The show can still be viewed on Food Network, Amazon, Apple TV, and other streaming services.

About Cushing Centers

Since 1947, Cushing's caring community has been a place where exceptional individuals of all ages and abilities have found possibility, opportunity, and hope, receiving support to achieve independence and meaningful relationships across home, work, school, and leisure.

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