Chow Town

Lessons learned from a class act

Jasper Mirabile and his first cooking teacher, Mrs. Pratt.
Jasper Mirabile and his first cooking teacher, Mrs. Pratt.

Believe it or not, there was a time when this chef was an amateur in the kitchen.

Even though it was more than 40 years ago, I still recall the first cooking class that I took. The class was an elective at St. Thomas More School in south Kansas City. The teacher was one of the volunteer parents and her name was Mrs. Shirley Dreiling.

The elective class took place was in the old school cafeteria in the basement of the church. I was the first to sign up for the cooking class because it interested me at the time.

The only other cooking lessons I have had were from my grandmother, mother and father. Funny thing, only one other boy signed up in the class of eight but that didn't bother me one bit. If the truth was known, he was just there to sample the food.

I was very excited for the first class. I still remember it as if it was yesterday. Mrs. Dreiling had everything set out on the counter and recipes on each chair. I took one look at the recipes and I could not believe it. We were going to make lasagna. This was my favorite dish and my grandmother actually made the best lasagna ever, so I was very excited.

I took one look at the recipe and I noticed that instead of the usual

ricotta cheese, Mrs. Dreiling was going to use cottage cheese. Ouch, I did not know what to do. Did I tell her that she was using the wrong cheese or did I just sit back and let her teach the class? As I recall, my first dilemma in grade school.

Mrs. Dreiling begin making a lasagna and we all went over the instructions. Halfway through the instruction, I could not wait any longer and I raised my hand. I just had to correct her.

I told her that my grandmother used ricotta cheese and that cottage cheese was too runny and chunky. I also told her she should add some eggs so it would rise like a soufflé.

She kindly thanked me and said she would consider it the next time she prepared the dish. We went on to make Caesar salad and Cherries Jubilee in that first class and I was delighted to come home and share the recipes with my family.

We also learned many other recipes that semester including sour cream coffee cake, cherry pie, a unique sandwich loaf, and my absolute favorite, potato pancakes.

When I returned home after school, my mother would take you to the grocery store and we shopped for some of the ingredients and I was able to make one of dishes each week. To this day, I still make the potato pancakes. Absolutely delicious and pretty simple.

The year went by and I graduated from grade school and went on to Rockhurst High School. I think you know the rest of my career path, but I still remember my first cooking school teacher.

A few weeks ago I was a judge at a local assisted-living home where hundreds of people were in attendance. I was there with my radio co-host Kimberly Stern and

I was enjoying some absolutely delicious barbecue when a lady came up to me and introduced herself to me.

She said she was Mrs. Pratt, the former Mrs. Dreiling. I took one look at her and I could not believe it. Here I was talking to my first cooking school teacher.

She was at the barbecue visiting her husband who lived there. I was so excited as we discussed the cooking class back in the mid-1970s. We talked for several minutes before I had to get back to work. Little did I know Kimberly cornered her and asked her to come on the radio show and be a surprise guest.

This past weekend I was hosting Live! From Jasper's Kitchen Radio at The Hen House Market on 117th Street and Roe Avenue in Leawood. Kimberly had been teasing our listeners about a special guest and as the radio show began, in walk Mrs. Pratt. I couldn't get over it.

Not only was I surprised that I was so happy to see her again. She came up to our radio table and sat down with the exact recipes from the cooking class that she taught back in the 70s.

The recipes were yellowed but it was the exact sheets. She handed recipes to me and told me it was a gift for being invited to come to the radio show and for being such a good student. Kimberly could not wait to interview her and for the first time in our eight year radio history, I was at a loss for words. Little does she know, I will treasure these recipes forever.

The first thing I told her was that I had to apologize for correcting her lasagna recipe over 40 years ago. We all shared a good laugh and she did tell me that she did correct the recipe for future classes.

I have met many people over my years, I still remember my pre-school teacher at Red Bridge School, first grade teacher, many high school teachers and of course my college professors and the dean of culinary arts from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but I will never, ever, forget Mrs. Dreiling and my first cooking class from grade school.

Thank you Mrs. Dreiling. For giving me the opportunity to be part of your class and for such great memories. I will always be grateful to you.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.