Teacher's lessons include taste of Italy
By LESLIE WILLIAMS-DENNIS
Recipes for the ancient Fagiolina del Lago bean fill an entire page of Patricia Kenjura's six-inch spiral-bound notebook.
Kenjura, a culinary arts instructor at Miller Career and Technology Center in Katy, returned from her nine-day fellowship in Italy with a lesson in the origins of Slow Food and an appreciation for traditional flavors.
As one of 55 Houston-area teachers to study abroad this summer through the Fund for Teachers program, Kenjura learned how to incorporate ideas based on eco-gastronomy into her lesson plans for both new and returning students.
Slow food, a movement which began in 1986 as a response to the growing fast-food culture, links farmers and food producers with consumers to promote nutritious food choices and a healthier society.
Kenjura, who owned and operated K&G Steakhouse in Sequin with her husband for 20 years before becoming a teacher in 2005, said she is fascinated by the legume she collected from the Trasimeno Lake in Umbria, Italy, a bean characterized by it's small size and simplicity in the region.
"It's amazing that they've been able to date these beans back through early Roman times, if not further," Kenjura said as she describes how the staple has been used for generations in soups and over fresh fish .
Kenjura, who began her summer odyssey June 13, currently instructs students from a full commercial kitchen and dining room located inside the KISD auxiliary campus at 1734 Katyland Drive.
Miller Career and Technology Center offers vocational training to high school juniors and seniors in areas ranging from civil engineering and architecture to criminal justice and automotive technology.
Kenjura said students in the culinary arts program will learn to use slow food techniques all areas of cookery as they formulate a chef's special, create a weekly menu and serve guests in the "Old Town Bistro", which seats 30 to 40 people.
Currently, 68 new students are registered to participate in the two-year career preparation course, in which students rotate through stations to prepare meals for the public every Wednesday and Thursday during peak lunch hours.
"Some of the things that we do here in the bistro would be similar to the slow food ideas and concepts because we cook food using traditional recipes and we don't buy pre-packaged, pre-processed products," Kenjura said.
Kenjura said she traveled the Italian countryside with a budget of under $5,000 and saw first hand how Balsamic Vinegar ages as well as the process to create Prosciutto ham and the cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano.
The trip was funded through corporate and individual donors affiliated with the Fund for Teachers organization, a national association that has supported 750 Houston teachers with more than $2.8 million in grants since 2001.
During her fellowship, Kenjura toured the cities of Bologna, Umbria and Rome and stayed in agriturismos, or farm resorts that serve guests foods prepared from raw materials collected both on their farm and through others in the region.
Kenjura that by bringing her experience to the classroom, students will learn to identify products recognized by the Slow Food Association, a non-profit organization with 100,000 members in 132 countries.
"It's more of a mindset, it's more of a willingness to stay away from the fast food and take the time to cook," Kenjura said, adding that teaching students to properly choose, prepare and purchase food will help them find ingredients available locally to incorporate into future recipes.
Kenjura said she plans to encourage her students to research some of their traditional family recipes and will purchase some of her class ingredients from the Katy Fresh Produce Market at 5026 E. Third St. to obtain more locally grown product.
The venue, which opened May 19, has more than 100 products for sale, many obtained through local farmers, including peaches grown in Fairfield and Okra that comes from Rosenberg.
Kenjura said buying through local farmers falls into the ideas practiced through the Slow Food movement .
Owner, Susan Becker said the variety of produce at her venue draws chefs like Kenjura to her market on a regular basis.
"Teaching kids how to cook, any type of chef wants that stuff," Becker said. `"We have a lot of herbs, we have a lot of figs. Not everything we have is locally grown, but everything we do have seems to be fresh," Becker said.
Kenjura said that buying newly picked ingredients greatly affects taste and hopes to teach her students to recognize the difference between freshly acquired product and those packed in salt and other types of preservatives.
Though she kept record of many recipes she obtained while touring Italy, Kenjura plans to educate her students about those that can be easily made through outlets available within the surrounding community.
"It's not only about what I'm doing for me, but it's about how can it better my students' learning and knowledge," Kenjura said. "How I can bring this back and share it with my community and share it with my fellow educators."
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