Trinity Catholic students get to cooking in the classroom

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

When the foods and cooking class at Trinity Catholic High School makes something with bacon, it's guaranteed to drive everyone crazy.

"The smell just goes through the whole school," family and consumer science teacher Debbie Petrowske said.

This year, the foods lab at the archdiocesan high school received six electric stoves, thanks to a $1,330 grant from the Florissant Rotary Club and a matching grant of $1,000 from Rotary District 6060. The shiny white stoves are a stark contrast against the retro feel of the kitchen lab — with pink metal cabinets and speckled counters. The kitchen is the original from when Rosary High School was built in 1961.

The donation came at a good time — the previous stoves had broken burners, and the ovens were difficult to clean. The senior foods and cooking class christened the new stoves with cinnamon roll pancakes. They recently started a series on foods of St. Louis. On the menu, several trusted favorites: toasted ravioli from Mama Toscano's on The Hill, Pasta House salad and gooey butter cookies.

The recipes are easy, Petrowske acknowledged, but it's the basics of cooking that she's really trying to impart with students. "We're teaching them basic cooking skills, so they can read recipes," she said. Students also are encouraged to cook at home, and to have meals as a family. The practical lessons they gain are invaluable, said Trinity Catholic president Sister Karl Mary Winkelmann, SSND.

The foods and cooking class is one of several practical arts courses offered under the Department of Family and Consumer Science. Other courses include culinary arts, sewing, fashion design, child development and parenting and home and design. Students are required to earn one credit in practical arts, with each semester course counting as half a credit.

"Look what it will do for them in the future, in terms of when they will go off on their own — when they don't have mom or dad to cook for them," Sister Karl Mary said.

As students prepared to deep-fry toasted ravioli, Petrowske instructed them to keep a close eye on the oil. "You don't want to put your raviolis in there until the oil is good and hot, or else they'll sog up," she said.

Senior Kelsey Keppler gently placed a handful of raviolis into the oil, as her classmates prepared the Pasta House salad, chopping lettuce, onions and artichokes. Keppler savors memories of cooking traditional Mexican recipes with her grandmother, who was from San Antonio. Her great-grandmother was a first-generation immigrant from Mexico. "We have a big file with all her recipes," she said.

Several alums have gone on to develop careers in culinary arts, including 2008 graduate Lia Weber, who won TLC's Next Great Baker TV competition in 2014. Weber owns "Made. By Lia", and specializes in wedding cakes and other pastries. Dustin Pulliam, class of 2015, has a business selling spicy-hot candy.

Petrowske will take a group of students to Orlando next spring for Cook Around the World, a culinary program hosted at Disney's Epcot. While the trip is an optional extra cost, all of the opportunities she provides, whether in class or as an extracurricular, will instill a love for cooking.

"I'll get a few students who have gone on to culinary school," she said. "Hopefully everybody's gone on to be able to cook meals for their families." 

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