Chefs In The Making

City Summer Enrichment Students Learn To Cook With Local Ingredients

Posted: July 16, 2014

By Hannah Pitstick

Regina Hissong and 20 area elementary school students gathered around Gloria’s Pupuseria at Tuesday’s Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market as Gloria Gerber herself prepared traditional Salvadoran pupusas using masa, cheese, beans and chicken.
“Now where are pupusas from?” Hissong asked the second- to fourth-graders.
“El Salvador!” shouted the group.
“I think it’s important for them to know where their food comes from,” Hissong noted.
The group of students is participating in the weeklong “Chef in the Making” course, one of Harrisonburg City Public Schools’ summer enrichment programs. In this one, students learn how to cook independently, explore varied culinary techniques and sample different foods.

Leaning Local
Before their Tuesday morning outing, the students visited Avalon Acres, where they gathered free-range eggs, and Season’s Bounty Farm just north of Harrisonburg, where they harvested potatoes, according to Hissong, who teaches third grade at Keister Elementary School.
The class visited the market to meet area farmers and buy ingredients to make pizzas with Executive Chef Ryan Zale at Local Chop & Grill House.
Before making pizzas, the group had a tour of the restaurant, where they had the opportunity to ask owner Jeff Hill their burning questions about the restaurant business.
“Why does it look so fancy,” one student wondered aloud, referring to the cozy, yet polished interior of the restaurant.
“Well, we want to give diners an experience for all five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch,” Hill said. “We’ll even park your car for you.”
“Wow!” exclaimed the student, impressed.
After the tour, the children crowded around pastry chef, Rachel Herr, as she showed them how to prepare the pizza dough.
“Guess what?” Emma Gibson, 8, asked Herr. “I want to be a chef and own my own restaurant one day.”
After the students spread out the dough on baking sheets, they topped them with generous amounts of sauce.
“For the sauce, we used tomatoes, garlic and basil from the same farms where you got your produce,” Zale told the group.
For Corrina Peachey, 10, it’s her second time taking the “Chef in the Making” course. She enjoys cooking and wanted to experience the program again, this time with her younger sister, Bella.
“My favorite part is berry picking at Jerry’s Gourmet Berries,” Corrina said. “So far this week we’ve made food art and Orange Julius smoothies.”

Lifelong Lessons
In addition to showing the students where their food comes from, Hissong hopes to illustrate how to be creative in the kitchen.
“Yesterday we taught them slicing, dicing and mincing, and then they created works of art using the chopped produce with a cookie sheet as their canvas,” she said.
At the end of the week the students will make a meal from scratch for their families, an idea that sounds inviting to 9-year-old Imaan Shakoor.
“My mom is often stressed and tired and I want to be able to cook for the family,” the young chef said.  
“We want to show them the entire farm-to-table experience,” Hissong says, “that local food tastes better, looks better and is often healthier for you.”
Catch Ryan Zale on the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” on Sunday, July 20 at 10 p.m. as he competes with three other chefs to prepare the celebrity judges’ favorite gourmet dishes.

Contact Hannah Pitstick at 574-6274 or

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