Rae Jean Hirst puts in her last shift

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Rae Jean Hirst, a well-known cook in Oroville, is hanging up her apron.

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Photo by Gary DeVon

Rae Jean Hirst, a well-known cook in Oroville, is hanging up her apron.

OROVILLE – Rae Jean Hirst, who has been cooking Oroville’s meals in various restaurants in Oroville for the better part of four decades, is hanging up her apron and retiring.

Friends, co-workers and the owners of Yo Yo’s Restaurant, Roger and Hazel McClendon, wished her all the best with a small party in the restaurant’s lounge following her final shift last Friday.

“As far as I can figure I’ve been working steady for 35 years… maybe 40,” said Hirst. “In a way I started when I was about 10 years-old. My mom worked so I was in charge of peeling the potatoes and lighting the fire so the potatoes would be ready when she got home.”

She began her career working for Marie Thompson at the old Roundup Caf&amp;#233; in Oroville where Re/Max Realty is located today.

“Marie’s the one that got me started,” said Hirst, who waited until her youngest daughter was in school before she began cooking professionally.

Next she worked at the Kozy Kitchen Kafe, which was located between the Pastime Tavern and what is now Hometown Pizza. Then it was the Peerless Restaurant for several years.

“Then I worked for Bob, then somebody else, then Bob, then somebody else, then Bob,” jokes Hirst, referring to former employer Bob Hirst, who owned Yo Yo’s when it was Fao’s and Theodore Bruins. Bob and Margaret Hirst sold the restaurant several times, only to get it back and have to take over running it again.

Her retirement party was punctuated with congratulations and questions about whether she was really done cooking. “I think I’m done, but Roger wouldn’t take my key,” Hirst said.

“Who will cook our clam chowder?” asked several anxious customers at Yo Yo’s Friday afternoon. Each claimed it was the best clam chowder around.

“She’s the fastest cook in the West,” said co-worker Judy Carroll. “When you hear that plate slap down on the counter you don’t dare ring the bell.”

Hirst says she never liked to travel, so she won’t be doing much of that now that she is retired.

“My feet are planted,” said Hirst, who raised six kids in Oroville.

She’ll probably spend even more time doing yard work and a lot of little things around the house… and walking her little dog Nicky.

“Nicky walks me,” she said.

“Thank God my grandkids are all in school I won’t have to babysit,” she adds with a smile.