By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published June 21, 2018
NEWNAN—It’s early Saturday morning and instead of sleeping late or playing video games, a group of teens and pre-teens are donning aprons, chopping cabbage and grating apples in the kitchen of St. George Church.
The Newnan parish’s culinary ministry, led by longtime parishioner Scott Eldred, teaches youth how to read recipes, basic knife skills and the importance of using fresh ingredients.
Beginning each January, more than a dozen young people gather in the kitchen to learn how to prepare nutritious, low-cost meals for their families. The ministry meets for 10 Saturdays. This year, the group celebrated the end of the program on April 7 by cooking a special meal for their families and pastor, Father Henry Atem.
The menu was true gourmet fare—Brussels sprouts with shallots, chicken with mushroom and sage, creamy mashed potatoes and a sweet and sour cabbage with apples. For dessert, the group prepared fried ice cream and strawberries topped with chocolate and whipped cream.
Madison Sickel, 14, has enjoyed participating in the program and gained much kitchen know-how.
“Before, I only knew how to make scrambled eggs,” said Madison as she rolled ice cream scoops in a mixture of cornflakes and cinnamon.
Now she has more confidence in the kitchen.
“When my mom was working, I made cookies,” she said.
This year students learned how to prepare a variety of meals and side dishes from meatloaf to corn dogs and quiche.
Madison said pizza from scratch was the hardest thing they tackled.
“It was really hard to get the dough right; it took forever,” she said.
Since participating in the ministry, Madison is more appreciative of the meals her mom makes and the effort it takes. She enjoys watching Food Network shows such as “Chopped.”
Nearly all of the student chefs said that the leftovers are a favorite part of the ministry.
“We have a lot to take home,” said Madison.
Eldred, who had a career in trucking and logistics, enjoys sharing his kitchen wisdom with young people. He first learned about cooking from his mother, who canned foods.
Eldred’s wife, Donna, who worked in school cafeterias in Carroll County and at a commercial bakery, helps him in the program.
“He traveled so much, and he wanted to try different foods,” she said of her husband’s love of cooking.
A father and grandfather, Eldred began cooking more in retirement. He pitches in to help with Knights of Columbus fish frys and other meals and celebrations at St. George.
“I think I’ve become the parish cook,” he said. His work is strictly volunteer in nature. Eldred said Father Atem reminds him, “Your reward is in heaven.”
Over the whirr of food processor blades, Eldred supervises the mixing of the fried ice cream coating.
“Cinnamon is a very powerful spice,” he tells the young chefs. “Just kind of stir it all around again.”
Assisting the Eldreds in the kitchen are parishioners Robert Thompson and Larry Joyner. The volunteers also offer a summer cooking camp.
“I went to culinary school years ago in Ft. Lauderdale,” said Thompson.
He did not make a career out of cooking, working for Delta Air Lines instead.
Thompson said that some of the program’s past participants are now pursuing further culinary training.
“I love this. These kids are great,” said Thompson. “It’s a good program. They can fend for themselves. It gives the kids something to do.”
Eldred said families pay a fee to participate in the program, but the ministry provides scholarships. Donations are accepted to assist in purchasing food. Proceeds from the recently published parish cookbook, “Feast of St. George,” went to the culinary program as well as a Mercy Meals ministry for grieving families.
Thompson headed to the stove to show the youth how to plate the cabbage and chicken as well as to oversee the preparation of a sauce.
“If you follow the recipe, you can do anything,” Thompson tells the chefs in training.
Rick Dearing, grandfather of participant Conrad Dearing, joins his grandson and friends most Saturdays.
“He really loves it. They spent the night, and he brought his cookbook,” said Dearing.
The two play golf together but now can enjoy time cooking together experimenting with chicken Marsala or Cajun Creole fare.
“He came to the summer camp last year,” said Dearing.
During the summer experience, Conrad was able to bring home lots of leftovers to freeze and share with his family.
“His mother didn’t have to cook for three whole weeks,” said Dearing.
In addition to sharing cooking programs with students at Ave Maria Academy in Newnan, Eldred is willing to go on the road to teach other parishes how to implement culinary programs for kids.
Father Atem said the culinary ministry has become a very important activity in the life of the church.
“Many of the teens who participate learn not only how to cook, but also the value of hard work, collaboration and faith. I am very grateful for the team of coordinators who guide and direct the students on basic cooking techniques and procedures,” said the pastor. “Our gratitude also to the parents who see value in these activities and get their children to participate. We believe that the soul and the body need to both be healthy. We are extremely proud of all that they have been able to accomplish.”
Any parish interested in learning about how to form a culinary ministry for young people, may contact Scott Eldred at 770-295-9789 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.