Benton Harbor — Students in Jennifer Gunther’s cooking class at Benton Harbor High School on Tuesday learned so much more than how to brown the perfect steak.
“I’ve learned to be creative and believe I have potential,” said Gamarion Evans, a graduate student who will graduate in June.
KitchenAid celebrity chefs Christopher Covelli and Brett Wagner shared their culinary skills with students ahead of the highly anticipated chef’s appearance at the KitchenAid Fairway Club during the 2022 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.
While cooking a seared steak topped with arugula salad and Parmesan cheese, Covelli and Wagner mingled for life lessons and words of wisdom while sharing their culinary skills and cooking tips with the students.
“This is an amazing group of kids,” Coveli said in an interview after the cooking class ended.
Covelli is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, where he trained under world-renowned chefs including Andre Soltner, Jacques Pepin and Alain Sayhak. He lives in Florida and runs two restaurants in Sarasota.
Wagner, who works at Covelli in one of his restaurants, said he’s been in the culinary industry since he was 15 — starting out by washing dishes.
He said he was completing an apprenticeship to become a culinary instructor when he met Covelli in Italy, and ended up going to work with him at one of his restaurants.
Coveli’s career took a different path. He was working as an insurance executive on Wall Street when, at age 30, “I realized it was boring, and there was nothing creative in it.”
So he went to culinary school, has since worked in seven countries and speaks five languages.
“Education is the most important thing in your life, along with your family,” he told the students on Tuesday. “Each of you can do whatever he likes if he completes his education.
Wagner shared tips on grilling a steak medium rare by starting with preheating the skillet. When the steak is placed in the hot pan, he said, “You want to hear that sizzling, that pleasurable noise.”
He then asked the students to let it cook until it raised on its own.
“If he doesn’t move, let him cook more,” Wagner said. “You want that golden brown, nice color.”
He said to spin the pan like a meat cooks, because sometimes the burners have different levels of heat. Wagner also provided tips on how to cook steaks at different temperatures to achieve a rare, medium, or medium tenderness.
“Too well cooked,” Coveli said.
Covelli also shared some life lessons with the students while Wagner was watching his steak. Telling them that becoming a chef can be a long process.
“I grew up in Queens, New York, and my family wasn’t wealthy. I shoveled snow, and I was a dishwasher. There’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “I wasn’t a perfect student, but I was smart because I studied.”
But he said, “I’ve challenged the teachers a lot.”
He said he attended a Catholic school “when the nuns were allowed to be beaten.”
“One day, they were with me,” he said, “so they put me in the hallway.” “They called my mom but she didn’t answer, so they called my dad. I saw my dad walking down the hallway, and I knew my dad.”
Coveli said the meeting was not pleasant and asked his father, “What did you do? He said: You did not respect your elders.”
Advise students to respect their teachers, principals, and principals.
“They work really hard, long after you leave the classroom,” he said.
Once the steak was done cooking, Wagner showed the students how to cut it against the grain, saying if it was sliced with the grain, “you’ll chew it forever.”
Sanihee Johnson said she loves to cook pancakes. The most important thing she learned on Tuesday, she said, was to “follow your dreams.”
The graduating seniors said they were still thinking about their future goals and careers, but they enjoyed Gunter’s cooking class, and learned a lot because it allowed them to be creative.
Evans said he took the class because he loves to eat, but now he thinks he might want to be a chef.
Others said they took the class because their parents wouldn’t always be with them, so learning to cook was important.