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Well-known Charleston chef honored through a new library initiative to spread healthy eating literacy

CHARLESLTON, W.Va. — A new space in the Kanawha County Public Library will now be dedicated to teaching children and families the value of healthy eating, honoring a well-known area chef and vital community asset in doing so.

Dozens filled up a corner of the library’s third floor Monday to officially dedicate the Otis Laury Nutritional Literacy Center by way of a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Named after a longtime Charleston resident and award-winning gardener, artist, musician and chef Otis Laury, the OLNL Center will promote healthy eating through a curated collection of books, cooking materials and educational programs.

Laury himself came out to Monday’s ceremony to receive the honor, and he said he’s having trouble wrapping his head around the achievement.

Otis Laury

“I mean this is unbelievable first of all, walking in here last night and seeing all of these posters and pictures, it’s unbelievable, unbelievable,” Laury said.

The new center not only helps to fulfill Laury’s initiative of promoting more healthy eating in the state, but it also recognizes his lifetime of service to the area, some of which includes his ownership and operation of several area restaurants and catering businesses, as well as his service as executive chef for three West Virginia governors.

One of the governors Laury was employed by was Governor Gaston Caperton from 1989 to 1997. Among the attention and appreciation Laury was managing to attract through his cooking and art during that time was former West Virginia First Lady Rachael Worby, who was also in attendance at Monday’s ceremony.

The idea to bring the OLNL Center to the library was a product of Worby’s own vision. She said during his time as chef at the governor’s mansion she always tried to encourage Laury to come out and get recognized for his cooking for the many dinners that would be held there, but he always avoided the spotlight.

Now, after coming to the library and seeing the transformation of a place which just housed books and periodicals and into one that’s bursting into the 21st century, Worby said she could think of no better person than Laury and his achievements he could display and inspire there that would best represent such transformation.

“He needs a place in this library to be honored while he’s alive, because he’s a living legend, and the legacy he has set forth through his art, his music, his hospitality, his cooking, I just believed really needed to have a focus,” she said.

In early June an endowment fund to raise a total of $250,000 and to bring the space to the library was created, and KCPL officials said Monday after making that announcement, they exceeded the amount in merely three days after launching the campaign.

One of the main features of the OLNL Center is the Charlie Cart hands-on food education programs. A kitchen on wheels, the Charlie Cart will offer educational programs promoting healthy food preparation and recipes to families, which Worby said will help transform the effort of spreading nutritional literacy across the region.

“This space is just going to bring this all hands on, here’s how you do it, here’s how you make a carrot taste delicious, here’s how you cut something to cook it, here’s how you can eat inexpensively and stay alive,” she said.

Rachael Worby

Worby said one of the projects Laury had helped her get launched during their time at the governor’s mansion was called Thanks A Million, an initiative to raise a million dollars to address the illiteracy problem and help support the spread of literacy in the state. However, what they both realized upon launching the initiative was that the lack of healthy eating and the problem of obesity also seemed to play a role.

“While we were working on this project together we discovered that one of the symptoms of obesity was illiteracy, because if you can’t read you don’t know how to take care of yourself, if you don’t know how to read a label in a grocery store you don’t know how to take care of yourself,” said Worby.

Laury hopes the center will serve as a stepping stone in promoting a healthier community who is more literate about healthy eating.

He said after coming from a place as a young boy who couldn’t even enter into the library due to the Jim Crowe laws which forbade African Americans from entering, it’s a great feeling to now serve as a figure helping to represent all of those who were once denied access, but went on to make phenomenal achievements in the community despite that.

“To the people who have graduated and done great things for the state and the world that was never able to come into the library and do what they did, it’s incredible,” said Laury.

The OLNL Center programs will be featured at the Main Library and its branches beginning with its first programs on October 2nd.

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