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.
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.
Usually, Carpenter said, each mediation will take several sessions, but the results are worth it.
"And 85 percent of the cases we mediate come to some kind of positive resolution," Carpenter said.
Sessions are voluntary, confidential and free, Carpenter said.
Warner said he won't have time to do a cooking demonstration. But he said he's going to hang out and meet some of those attending. As soon as it's over, Warner will have to hop back into the car and head toward the airport to get back to his duties at Food Network.
"I'll literally be in and out. I have a lot of things going on, but I just happened to have a spot in my schedule," he said. "I feel like I owe something to Hagerstown. I'd like to do bigger things down the road, but this is a good start."
His schedule has been packed with events, but he still has his Brooklyn, N.Y., restaurant Do or Dine, where he'll be back in the kitchen on Monday.
In the meantime, he's still working with Food Network for the launch of his show, "Rebel with a Culinary Cause." As part of his "Next Food Network Star" win, his "Star" mentor Alton Brown will produce his show.
Warner said they haven't started filming the show, but he couldn't go into more specifics about the show.
"It's all good. Trust me on that," he said.
That's OK for his friend Gysberts, who said having Warner participate in this event for the mediation center is special.
"It just means a whole lot to me that he would do that," he said. "I know how busy he is and to be a 'Rebel with a Culinary Cause' and for this to be the cause for him to put his name on is special."
If you go ...
What: 'Come to the Table' dinner and event
When: 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9
Where: LJ's and the Kat Lounge, 1130 Conrad Court, Hagerstown
Cost: $60; limited number of tickets still available
Contact: Call 301-665-9262 or go to www.wccmc.org.
More: Proceeds benefit Washington County Community Mediation Center