Saffron chef Ainsworth is Beard semifinalist

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Compliments to chef Chris Ainsworth, the owner of Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, on being named a semifinalist in the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards.

Ainsworth will compete against 19 other semifinalists -- one of which is actually a pair -- for top honors in the Pacific Northwest category. This is his fourth consecutive year as a semifinalist on the culinary world's biggest award program. Ainsworth is the only Eastern Washington restaurateur/chef nominated in his category.

Up next in the process will be paring down the list to five names in each of the categories. The finalists will be announced March 19. Winners will be feted during the annual gala in New York on May 7.

Ainsworth and his wife, Island Ainsworth, are the proprietors of Saffron, 125 W. Alder St., as well as neighboring restaurant Pho Sho, 123 W. Alder St.

The James Beard Foundation Awards are considered the country's most coveted honor for chefs; food and beverage professionals; broadcast media, journalists, and authors working on food; and restaurant architects and designers.

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A new manager is leading Banner Bank's College Place branch.

Barbara "Barb" Thompson has been hired by the Walla Walla-based bank to manage its branch at 1125 N.E. C St.

The position marks a return for Thompson to the company for which she worked more than 25 years before leaving to pursue other opportunities in the banking industry. Before rejoining Banner she was teller supervisor/assistant branch manager at Baker Boyer Bank. As assistant vice president/retail branch manager she will lead the College Place operation.

"We are so fortunate to have Barb back at Banner and to lead our College Place branch team," said Senior Vice President/ Retail Division Manager Cyndi Wood in the announcement. "Her extensive experience in the banking industry and history with Banner, combined with her proven successes at providing outstanding customer service will greatly benefit Banner Bank and makes her an excellent resource for our clients in the College Place community."

During her previous run at Banner, Thompson worked as a registered sales assistant to Brian Hearden. A Walla Walla Community College graduate, she also volunteers for numerous advisory boards and organizations throughout the community.

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The founders of Walla Walla's Cardio Strength Bootcamp will celebrate the second anniversary of their fitness business with two benefit workouts.

Next Wednesday, Marc Yonts and Scott Tibbling will offer $5 workouts -- one at 6 a.m. and one at 4 p.m. All proceeds will be donated to help students at Sharpstein Elementary through the Sharpstein Cares project.

The workouts are open to the public and will include a combination of interval strength training and fat-torching cardio.

Yonts and Tibbling first started the bootcamp as a body weight and TRX-oriented fitness program. It now includes sandbells, kettlebells, exercise ropes, medicine balls and sleds. Clients also receive emails about individualized "on your own" workouts, strategies for making effective nutritional choices and ideas for maintaining motivation for lifetime fitness, according to an announcement.

The monthly cost to participate is $50. For more information, visit cardiostrengthbootcamp. com; Yonts at 540-9553 or myonts@charter.net; or Tibbling at 240-4126 or stibbling@yahoo.com.

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Community Bank recently presented a $1,000 check to Walla Walla School District Superintendent Mick Miller as the kickoff of the bank's new Adopt-a-School program.

The Joseph, Ore., bank identified Green Park and Blue Ridge elementary schools as having significant needs based on the percentage of students enrolled in the schools' reduced-price or free lunch programs.

The money will be divided evenly between the two schools and can be used to help students with lunches, classroom supplies and other items needed for their educations. Those who receive the assistance will be chosen by teachers and/or counselors at the respective schools, according to an announcement from the district.

The contribution was presented to Miller by Community Bank Chief Executive Officer Tom Moran. In a prepared statement, Moran said Community Bank wants to get more involved in the community. Schools, he said, are a "great place to start."

"We recognize that an investment in people and their education is a smart investment in the community," he said.

Strictly Business is a local business column. Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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