Persistence paid off for aspiring chef and Morrison Elementary eighth-grader Tommy Smith. After years of asking cafeteria manager Debra Jo Shinaberry to allow him to cook with her, the two have been doing just that.
“He would say ‘Mrs. Jo, I would like to cook with you sometime,’” said Shinaberry. “I kept saying sometime I would let him. Sometime is up. He’s in the eighth grade and will be moving onto high school at the end of this year.”
Smith, 14, has had a desire to be chef since age 6 after watching the Cooking Channel and seeing Bobby Flay, a critically acclaimed chef/ restauranteur, cookbook author and TV personality.
“Since I saw Bobby Flay, cooking is all I’ve wanted to do,” said Smith. With a smile in the direction of Shinaberry, he added, “Cooking is even funner when you do it with someone who likes to cook as much as you do.”
Smith began collecting cooking items at an early age, including an apron that says “Real Men Wear Aprons” that was given to him by his aunt.
“I have about three totes of cooking items, but I still don’t have everything I want,” said Smith. “I would love to have one of those Kitchen Aid mixers. They are about $220. It comes with all these attachments.”
Shinaberry shares in his passion for cooking.
“I’ve always loved to cook,” she said. “On the weekends, if I get in the mood, I will cook a whole week’s worth of food.”
With Smith’s desire to learn and Shinaberry’s love for cooking, the two started an after-school cooking class every two weeks on Wednesday night in the cafeteria. Lessons started at the beginning of this school year.
“Our first week, we cooked meatloaf, sweet potatoes, collards, rolls and potato candy,” said Shinaberry. “We made one meatloaf out of ground beef and one from ground turkey.”
The two discussed fat content in ground beef compared to ground turkey, and the health benefits of substituting ground turkey in recipes that call for ground beef. Lessons also include math, calculating measurements, fractions and calorie-counting skills.
“We prepared mashed sweet potatoes out of fresh and canned sweet potatoes, to show the difference in texture, color and taste,” said Shinaberry. “We prepared our canned collards with light seasonings. We made our potato candy as a delicious simple homemade dessert.”
A good chef tastes as he cooks.
“I had never tried sweet potatoes or collards before,” said Smith. “I liked them. Healthy can taste good.”
Last week, the two cooked chicken pot pie, as well as apple pie and cherry pie. Smith made the pie crust.
“I’ve always hear that food doesn’t taste good unless you make a mess in the kitchen,” said Smith as he threw some flour onto the table before rolling out the dough. “I don’t know if that’s true, but we make a mess and it tastes good. It might be true.”
For now, the class is one-on-one with Shinaberry paying for all the items the two use.
“I would actually like to open up the class to other students,” said Shinaberry. “I finance the meals myself, so I can only afford so much. I would like to offer a class on healthy 30-minute meals. As a manager of the child nutrition program, I really would like to see more students learning to make simple, fresh, wholesome meals at home.”
Smith is using this time to further his ambition toward becoming a chef at his own restaurant.
“I’ve already contacted the teacher at high school about joining the cooking class next year. He said he usually doesn’t take freshmen, but he will take into account my enthusiasm in wanting to cook. I think he will let me in the class. I have my fingers crossed.”
At the end of the school year, the two are going to hold a dinner party and invite his family and school officials to taste his progress.
“I think we will have made a lot of progress by then,” said Shinaberry.
The party will be scheduled at the end of April or the beginning of May.