Town mourns loss of Taos High School culinary teacher

Chef Benjie Apodaca coached his team to state awards

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News of Benjie Apodaca's death began to circulate across the social media and through the community on Monday (July 15) as friends and colleagues offered their condolences and shared memories of the beloved local chef who was found dead in his home that morning.

Taos County Sheriff's officers were dispatched to Apodaca's home Monday morning where they found him. Officers at the scene determined no foul play was involved in his passing. He was 55.

Apodaca was known for his contributions as the instructor of the culinary program at Taos High School where he continuously coached students to national competition levels. His teaching spanned generations of students at Taos High School and influenced many in the field of culinary arts.

"I owe most of that job to him," said another Taos High teacher, Adam Medina. "He was a really helpful mentor to me in my teaching career. I wouldn't be where I am today without his help."

Medina taught alongside Apodaca this past school year and was a student of his in high school. It was Apodaca's teachings that influenced Medina to pursue the culinary arts.

Medina's younger brother, Alejandro, was also a student of Apodaca's and was part of the recent ProStart team to win state level awards.

"He always liked to joke around, but he always wanted his students to succeed," Alejandro Medina said.

Kristen Davenport Katz, whose son was in Apodaca's culinary class, described the chef as "hilariously wonderful and hard on the kids in all the right ways. Terrible loss."

Apodaca's younger brother Robert said Benjie's loss would not be easy to fill in the community. While planning for the funeral service, Robert said his brother was always the person to have the food taken care of and now someone else would have to fill that role.

"He was just really a very strong community person who saw the value of any person," Robert said. "He just had a good heart and a good soul,"

Benjie and his siblings grew up in Arroyo Seco and have been around the area ever since.

Apodaca's culinary program will be in the hands of the district for now as Medina said it was too early to determine what would happen following the chef's death. Officials from across the state expressed their condolences for Apodaca in various ways, including the ProStart team in New Mexico.

"Today we have lost one of the most passionate educators in the New Mexico ProStart family," members of New Mexico ProStart posted on social media. "Benjie Apodaca was an incredible man and a force of life who will be missed every day."

Apodaca recently took his students to the national ProStart culinary and business competition where they competed against top-tier teams from high schools across the country.

A rosary was held Wednesday (July 17) and the funeral is today (July 18) at 10:30 a.m. at Holy Trinity Parish In Arroyo Seco.

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