Clementine Stallworth DeRoode, 66, is the executive chef for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. She and her food-service team have cooked thousands of meals every day this week for children attending space and aviation camps, museum visitors and guests attending events commemorating the Apollo 11 mission. Photo by: Courtesy photo
Josiah Lawrence, who teaches eighth grade science at Armstrong Middle School, talks about constellations with Starkville-Oktibbeha County fifth graders participating in space camp at Sudduth Elementary School. After learning about stars in an inflatable planetarium on Thursday, the 18 campers, including, from left, Ranier Smith, Megan Brand, Lillian Downey and Joshua Nolen, all 10, configured models of constellations with marshmallows and toothpicks.
Photo by: Victoria Cheyne/Dispatch Staff
Rockets campers built at space camp, sponsored by Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, lay scattered on a table in a classroom of Sudduth Elementary School on Thursday, near coffee cans they used for a moon walk challenge earlier in the week. The 18 campers, all incoming fifth graders, built the rockets with the Space Cowboys rocket design team from Mississippi State University on Wednesday.
Photo by: Victoria Cheyne/Dispatch Staff
July 19, 2019 10:13:23 AM
Normally, Clementine Stallworth DeRoode's day as executive chef at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, starts at 7 a.m.
This week, with daily events in celebration of Apollo 11's 50th anniversary, as well as regular museum operations and summer camps, she's been getting to the kitchen at 4 a.m. and going home around 9 p.m.
She said it's been "crazy" to prepare meals for thousands of people every day, but her team and their system are a "well-oiled machine."
"We have a good team," DeRoode said. "Everybody is helping do everything."
DeRoode, 66, a Columbus native, said she has been cooking since she was a little girl, the "baby" among two older sisters and two older brothers. She could only get away from her siblings when she was in the kitchen making creole dishes with her dad, who went to medical school in New Orleans, and preparing Sunday dinner with her mother every week: a rib roast, scalloped potatoes and broccoli casserole.
DeRoode said grits and oatmeal cookies were her personal specialties, but not together.
After graduating from Lee High School, she earned a bachelor of fine arts in design from the University of Mississippi and then a master's degree in painting from Memphis State University.
DeRoode said she was a "prolific painter" doing watercolors, among other projects, in Memphis, Tennessee in her 20s. After moving to Houston in 1981, she did architectural renderings on the side while raising her son and daughter.
A few years later, she moved to Huntsville and started a gourmet gift basket business with a friend and found her way back into cooking. From there, her career in the kitchen quickly progressed.
She went straight from arranging gift baskets to owning a small bakery and making chicken salads. And then she opened Clementine's Restaurant and Catering, a fine dining restaurant in Huntsville that stayed open for 31 years.
And she did the whole thing all without a culinary-school education. She summed up her natural talent succinctly: "God's gift of creativity."
"The part I like best is the creativity, because I love having a plate that looks beautiful and tastes beautiful, and I love the different thinking about the different ways flavors combine and come together," DeRoode said.
She got the attention of U.S. Space and Rocket Center leadership after selling chicken salad there. The center first hired her as a part-time food consultant, then offered her the executive chef position in November 2014.
"I came out here, and I'm having a blast," DeRoode said. "It's just really lots of fun, and you get to meet lots of people, and it's fun to take care of these kids and make things happen."
This week, for summer camps at the Space and Rocket Center, DeRoode and her team prepared three meals a day for 1,300 children participating in camps focused on space and aviation.
Meals come from a rotation of 14 culturally diverse menus representing some of the 18 countries whose astronauts have visited the International Space Station -- including Italy, Spain, Sweden, France, England, Canada and the United States.
The Swedish menu consists of traditional alplermagronen: pasta and potatoes layered with three white cheeses. The German menu includes chicken schnitzel with assorted sauerkrauts.
On Thursday, campers were served fried chicken with macaroni and cheese, collard greens and cornbread, a classic American meal.
DeRoode said she enjoys creating meals for campers that are as exciting as what they're learning about space, aviation, cyber technologies and robotics.
"I love to present new foods to the campers so they have an experience (in the) food area as well as in the camping area," DeRoode said. "They learn lots of new things (and have) new experiences and meet people from all over the world, so I like the food to reflect that as well and give them an opportunity to try something they might not be able to try at home."
'The brightest star in the sky'
At a totally separate space camp closer to home, 18 rising fifth graders in Starkville ate Domino's pizza Thursday at Sudduth Elementary, taking a break from their own cosmic experiments.
Campers at the weeklong event sponsored by Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District learned about moon phases, planets and rockets, through games, activities and guest speakers.
On Thursday, they packed into an inflated planetarium -- two black tarps duct-taped together to form a dome with minuscule holes poked in the configurations of constellations -- to learn about the stars.
"What's the closest star to us?" Dave Teske, a recently retired science teacher of 25 years, asked the children from inside the planetarium.
"The sun!" a boy shouted.
Teske guided a student's pointed finger to a star under the belt of Orion, the hunter.
"That's the brightest star in the sky," Teske said. "What is it?"
"Sirius," another student replied instantly. He said he knew the answer from reading the Harry Potter series.
Down the hall, the group returned to their classroom and put their newfound knowledge to the test. With toothpicks and marshmallows, children formed models of the constellations, including Leo, the lion, Cancer, the crab and Aries, the ram from printed guides laid on their tables.
Jordyn Ferguson, 10, arranged her marshmallows to form Scorpius, because it's goes with her zodiac sign, she said.
"It's cool to learn about how they were named and their back stories," Ferguson said.
The camp has existed for several summers through the YES! -- youth environmental science -- program, but this is the first year Brenda Jackson, lead science teacher for SOCSD, is in charge.
She said the kids are in the sweet spot where they have some knowledge about space and haven't started thinking they already know everything, for the most part. They've been full of questions this week, she said.
"To me, these little children are so impressionable and so willing to learn," Jackson said. "We need to get them excited about science as early as possible."
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