Whipping up a storm in Chef’s Corner


Photo by Amani Mryan

Chef’s Corner, Room A125-Zoey Buonamici (left) and Miles King (right), a freshman from Sandburg, pour bread batter into a pan as a part of the Bread unit in the 6-week Chef’s Corner class.

The smell of freshly baked bread wafts out of room A125 and permeates the hallway, filling it with a comforting sense of delicious home-cooked meals. Innocent and possibly hungry summer school students who have class on the south side of the building are often left with growling stomachs after getting a whiff of the smells emerging from the classroom.

It’s a typical day for the 20 Chef’s Corner kids, and right when the bell rings at 7:40, they’re ready to work. Everyday is a new and scrumptious challenge, accompanied by detailed instruction and a fresh plate of excitement. It’s a class every food-lover should take.

Chef’s Corner is that first baby step into the wide world of cooking or baking. It’s a beginner’s class and serves as a prerequisite to some of the more difficult classes like baking and pastries, gourmet foods, and food restaurant management. The students are mainly freshmen who hope to take the advanced classes during the school year, with a handful of seniors in the mix who hope to start their final year at York with an easy, laid-back class that provides food-loving students with helpful tidbits of information.

In order to juice all the benefits out of this half day, six week class, teacher Ms. Rachel Marten, who has been at York for 10 years and has taught Chef’s Corner for three years, has broken the fast-paced class into different sections based on food groups.

“We start with more basic recipes and we cover all of the food groups and learn different cooking methods and do recipes that involve every different type of food group,” Ms. Marten said. “We do about a week and a half of nutrition and then we start getting more into the food groups. So typically it’s like fruits and vegetables, and eggs and poultry, meat and seafood, and then so on.”

But first, the students need to grasp safety and proper cooking techniques before cooking.

“In the beginning, we start with safety and sanitation and do some knife skills practice,” Ms. Marten said. “We cover the things they need to know before they can jump into the lab and just start cooking.”

The first couple of days are all about how to handle yourself in the kitchen. Ms. Marten instructs the students on how to prevent food-borne illnesses, how to work with the machinery, how to wash dishes, and how to hold knives. After the students have grasped the basics of cooking, they are ready to begin slicing, stirring, dicing, mixing, and whipping.

As with every work in progress, looking back at where you come from and where you are now fills a person with satisfaction. That’s exactly how Ms. Marten feels about her class.

“I just think it’s fun watching them over the course of the semester or the summer go from being apprehensive and really cautious as to what they’re doing or maybe not following the recipe completely to towards the end like where we are now,” Ms. Marten said. “I can go over something quickly. They know exactly what their jobs are, what they need to do, how to clean. It’s me just overseeing things rather than helping them every step of the way. So I think overall it’s something I like doing during this class.”

Ms. Marten feels that it is extremely helpful to take Chef’s Corner. She believes that it is an enjoyable class and teaches students important life skills.

“Even if you don’t want to be a chef one day, it’s a life skill that everyone needs to know,” Ms. Marten said. “It’s fun to learn how to cook, and the variety of things you take away from this class to learn how to prepare different recipes. Even just how to chop up an onion. Or you know steam some broccoli, these are things that one day you’re going to want to learn how to do.”

Students who want to continue the class can take Chef’s Corner during the school year with returning teacher Ms. Sarah Marik. (Ms. Marik was on maternity leave, so fellow teacher Ms. Suzanne Van Der Merwe filled in). Ms. Suzanne Van Der Merwe has been teaching Chef’s Corner for 18 years. However, it wasn’t at York; it was in Africa. Ms. Van Der Merwe has taught at York for 10 weeks so far. She was first interested in Chef’s Corner due to her “love of cooking and sharing skills.”

During the summer, Ms. Van Der Merwe teaches Introduction to Family and Consumer Science-Consumerism and enjoys “the practical lessons and helping students learn new culinary skills and techniques” about Chef’s Corner.

Chef’s Corner seems to be a popular class, and the students speak very highly of it, especially the ones with a passion for cooking. One student, incoming freshman William Yasdick from Sandburg, even hopes to have a career in cooking one day.  

“I’d like to be a chef. [My dream] started in seventh grade,” Yasdick said.

Yasdick started by helping his parents out in the kitchen and his favorite food to make is shrimp scampi, which is “basically just shrimp with noodles,” Yasdick said.

Like Yasdick, incoming sophomore Lissandra Martinez has experience with cooking and is passionate about improving her skills. However, Martinez wanted to take this class to get ahead.

“I really wanted to take this class so that next year I could take baking and pastries, which is more advanced,” Martinez said.

Martinez has an extensive history with baking, whipping up cookies and breads in her spare time. She hopes to continue cooking and baking as “really fun hobby.”

So far in the class, Martinez’s favorite food to make is zucchini tots.

“[It] was really cool, and you’d think that they [zucchini tots] aren’t going to taste good, because it has zucchini,” Martinez said. “But it was really good.”

Martinez advises the students that are interested in Chef’s Corner to “be able to work with people.”

“Don’t be an antisocial kind of person,” Martinez said. “Be nice. Just get your work done and be responsible.”

Some students like freshman from Bryan, Zoey Buonamici, have even more experience than most.  

Buonamici had taken Family Consumer Science in middle school for three years. She took two years of cooking and one year of sewing, but believes that the Chef’s Corner class allows her to focus on more advanced recipes that provide her with more experience and a better understanding of different cooking techniques.

“We’re doing a lot of new dishes, and I’ve learned a lot…I’m kinda good at it,” Buonamici said.

Buonamici’s brother took the class as a freshman, and “he said it was very fun and that the dishes were great,” Buonamici said.

“Pay attention, especially to the fractions for measuring and definitely read the directions thoroughly,” Buonamici said. “It’s really easy to mess up on that.” Luckily, these mistakes are pretty easy to fix and provide for a valuable learning experience, Buonamici said.

If you are interested in furthering your Chef’s Corner experience, every student will be given the opportunity to participate in the Family Career and Community Leaders of America competitions during the school year. These competitions cover all the FCS departments.

“There’s interior design, there’s child development, there’s fashion, and then obviously the culinary area, which is probably our biggest area,” Ms. Marten said. Students are able to dabble in what they are interested in. They have a regional competition at the College of Dupage in February and a state competition in Springfield in April.

Students who qualify to compete at the national level participate in a competition similar to the accredited Food Network’s Chopped.

“Four chefs call on their culinary skills as they face off against one another [in Chopped] to prepare a spectacular three-course meal consisting of an appetizer, entree and dessert…,” IMDb, an Internet Movie Database, said. “In each round, they have to use all the ingredients the show provides them… At the end of each course, a panel of three guest judges ‘chops’ one chef who fails to measure up in terms of taste, presentation and creativity.” While students don’t typically take home $10,000, they do get major bragging rights for even making it to the national level.

Above all, Ms. Marten’s Chef’s Corner summer school class is something she and her students believe is an amazing class that every student should take.

“I love the class and I think the students end up loving it too,” Ms. Marten said. “It just continues to grow year after year. We get more and more sections of it and it’s great to see.”

*For more information, visit Chef’s Corner’s website: https://sites.google.com/a/elmhurst205.org/chefscornerteamsite/