It started with a homemade pecan pie. Then, it bloomed into being the cook of the family.

Caden Gaines, a 17-year-old Timber Creek High School student, found love for the culinary arts as a child. His love for culinary arts came from his mother’s and grandmother’s cooking.

“Food was one of the ways that my mom — when I was younger and if I was upset — would cheer me up. She was a very good home cook,” Gaines said. “I remember one day, I guess I got bullied or something, and she made me the most amazing pecan pie ever. I think it was from that day forward that I’ve always wanted to become a chef.”

Gaines is one of hundreds of students who registered to attend the Fort Worth Food + Wine Foundation’s Conference for the Next Generation of Hospitality Leaders on Feb. 16 at Texas Christian University.

Russell Kirkpatrick, the co-founder of the Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival, and Chef Graham Elliot, right, pose at the Fort Worth Food and Wine Foundation student conference on Feb. 16 at the Brown-Lupton University Union, 2901 Stadium Drive Elliot recently moved to Fort Worth and spoke at the student conference. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Russell Kirkpatrick, a co-founder of the event, said this is the fourth year of the conference, which aims to help North Texas culinary students who want to pursue a career in the field.

“The festival is really to provide education to students on how they can get into the industry, mainly the restaurant industry,” he said. “And our goal today is to shine some light on some of those industries that are involved in the culinary industry, but not directly to a restaurant.”

The event featured a variety of speakers on topics ranging from farming to entrepreneurship. Kirkpatrick said he was looking forward to the breakout sessions on farming, because many students are from the area and don’t know much about it.

Culinary high school students mingle before speakers take over at the Fort Worth Food and Wine Foundation student conference on Feb. 16 at the Brown-Lupton University Union, 2901 Stadium Drive. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Gaines is a student in the high school’s culinary practicum program, he said. In the program, students pursue a four-year culinary curriculum that ends in a career or honed style of cooking.

Timber Creek is a Keller ISD school in north Fort Worth.

“My mom was the one who needed me to start cooking because my sister showed zero interest and she said, ‘Alright, one of y’all needs to cook,’” he said. “So, I was the cook growing up, and if she gets home late, I’m usually the one making dinner.”

Outside of his love for food and cooking, Gaines said he uses the lessons he learns from cooking in his everyday life. He built confidence, concentration and the ability to multitask. 

Gaines believes everyone needs something they can control, interact with and get hands-on with. His thing was cooking.

“A lot of television shows say you’re supposed to be in the kitchen super aggressive. No, it’s not how it is at all. In fact, if you do that, there’s a good chance most of your cooking will go downhill.”

He said he hopes to be an online vlogger in the food industry once he graduates, referring to  food reviewers who make videos cooking or reviewing food on TikTok.

“That is the absolute No. 1 dream for me,” Gaines said. “That would be the most free I ever could ask for.”

Disclosure: One of the conference speakers, Jonathan Morris, is a board member of the Fort Worth Report.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter.

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at

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Kristen BartonEducation Reporter

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...

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Cristian ArguetaSotoCommunity Engagement Journalist

Cristian is a May 2021 graduate of Texas Christian University. At TCU, ArguetaSoto served as staff photographer at TCU360 and later as its visual editor, overseeing other photojournalists. A Fort Worth...