Eudora culinary students cook up holiday meals for local families in need

From left, Bailey Campbell, a Eudora sophomore in her first year in culinary arts at the Eudora-De Soto Technical Education Center at Eudora High School, her instructor Rick Martin and sophomore Madison McGinness prepare sweet potato gratin Saturday at Eudora High School. Students in the culinary arts program, along with help from friends and parents, were preparing six gourmet meals for families in need as part of an Adopt-A-Family program.

One kitchen, more than a dozen teenage cooks and six gourmet meals in five hours was the challenge Rick Martin put to his students Saturday.

It might sound like a recipe for chaos, but Martin, the culinary arts instructor at Eudora High School, said his students were ready for some “crazy Iron Chef action.”

“They know how to do it,” he said. “They’re in charge.”

The students started at 8 a.m. Saturday, cooking holiday meals for six local families in need. Each meal included glazed ham, turkey, green beans, potatoes gratin, apple crisp, and dinner rolls made from scratch. Many of the students brought friends, parents or other teachers with them to help, but they also were cooking on deadline. The school social worker, in charge of delivering the meals to anonymous families, expected to pick the food up at noon.

Most of the students, like Patience Keeney, a third-year student in the culinary program, said the deadline would be “no problem” and dismissed the idea that any dish could come out wrong. By mid morning, she had already declared victory.

“It was easier than I thought it would be,” she said. “I thought it would take longer.”

At the same time, Eudora High sophomore Camden Leary busied himself from one cooking station to the next, stirring sauces, looking inside ovens and offering help to others. He was concerned, he said, that the green beans and the ham be ready at the same time.

“I’m just checking cooking times,” he said. “I think we pulled it off pretty well.”

The school just finished raising $1,800 to adopt needy families over the holidays, and cooking meals for some of them was Martin’s idea.

Martin, who until recently ran the kitchen at Free State Brewing Company, 636 Massachusetts St., said helping other people eat well was important to him because he knew what it was like to grow up hungry. As a teenager, he said, he had seen tough times in his family with his mother working nights help them get by. Often he would be the one cooking dinner for himself and his brother.

“Sometimes I had to improvise,” he said. “A lot of times there wasn’t much to work with.”

In the past, Martin adopted one family each year and cooked a holiday meal for them. Now, with a fully-equipped teaching kitchen and nearly 50 students, he realized they could cook for six.

By 11 a.m., most of the preparation was done and the cooks were merely waiting on the last dishes to finish baking or adding some final touches. Some painted another layer of honey on a ham, while a group working with junior Alex Bock stopped short when the recipe for sweet potatoes gratin took a surprising turn at the end.

“I never heard of using marshmallows,” Bock said as her friend sprinkled the sugar puffs over the potatoes. But when the dish came out of the oven, she pinched a sample and nodded approvingly while chewing it.

“It’s good,” she said.