It is not always necessary to get in a car or pick up a phone and order take out to find something to eat, as members of Whittier High School are discovering in a new elective offered this year.
The creative foods class is taught by Mark Johnson, who many may remember as a longtime coach in the Sedalia School District 200. Although he is no longer coaching on the gridiron, he is now using cast iron skillets to coach his students in the fine art of cooking.
“My mother was a professional baker and cake decorator,” Johnson said. “I grew up helping her decorate many a wedding cake.
“Late last year B.J. Curry (assistant director at Whittier) said we needed to come up with some more electives for the students here,” Johnson said. “One of our goals at Whittier is to prepare our students for life after school, and so I thought what better way than with a cooking class.”
Johnson applied for one of the Sedalia School Foundation grants and was awarded $1,000 for the project.
Whittier Director Martin White and Johnson also commended the generosity of Thom Munson and Bings Supermarket for some additional funding for the class.
“We couldn’t do a lot of this without their help and support because the students are using fresh, healthy ingredients,” Johnson said.
The class teaches more than just how to break some eggs or bake a casserole.
Students are taught life skills in the class such as quantity and price per unit, budgeting, following directions, measurements and safety skills.
“A lot of these kids may have never cleaned up a kitchen in their life, much less washed dishes,” Johnson said with a smile. “They don’t understand prep time and that you just can’t dump everything into a bowl or a pan and a meal comes out.”
“Coach has taught us that safety in the kitchen is always important,” Senior Cody Anderson said. “There are a lot of things in the kitchen that can really hurt a person if they aren’t careful and don’t pay attention.
“We get to eat a lot too,” he added. “The other day we made hamburgers with ground beef and they were really good.”
The eight students in this session will learn how to prepare items for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as making casseroles and desserts.
During the last week of the eight-week class, they will be given an amount of money to spend and then will have to purchase the food and prepare an entire meal for a group.
“We’re a family here,” White said. “Part of being a family is you look at the needs of the family, in this case our students, and you try to figure out what they will need to be successful.
“This class helps to teach them that,” he added. “Some of these kids struggled to get back on track so they can graduate; the staff here does so much to help them that when given the chance to go back to their original school they don’t want to leave here.”
While some of the recipes the students have used have come from Pintrest and the Internet, others are family favorites.
Monday afternoon the students were making cookies and senior Christole Baden was mixing up a batch of Grandma Johnson’s Belgium Waffle cookies.
When Johnson was asked what the secret to the cookies was, he said matter of factly, “lard.”
“No one uses lard anymore when they bake,” Johnson added “You have to use real ingredients though or it won’t taste right.”
Rose Bond, a sophomore, agreed.
“One of the best parts about the class is that we’re learning to make things that are homemade and don’t just come out of a box,” Bond said. “It was so much better than what you buy in a box.
“It wasn’t all yellow and powdery, it was really creamy and white because we used real cheese when we made it,” she added.
Seeing the sense of accomplishment on his student’s faces is what keeps Johnson motivated to continue teaching.
“This is my 32nd year teaching and I still learn something every day from these kids,” Johnson said. “The kids who are here want to learn and they want to graduate.
“They have just faced some bad situations that have stood in their way,” Johnson continued. “The teachers and the administrators here and the kids are great; watching us learn together is the best part.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484