St. Rita CYO members learn tricks of cooking from chef

Members of the St. Rita CYO had a different kind of meeting one recent Sunday evening in the parish rectory in Harahan.

They spent about 90 minutes learning culinary skills from Deacon Ken Smith, a transitional deacon scheduled for ordination as a Catholic priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans next summer. He has served his deacon internship at St. Rita.

Deacon Smith, 55, a former chef at The Upperline Restaurant Uptown who graduated from Delgado’s Culinary Arts program, has been studying for the priesthood at Notre Dame Seminary since 2010.  He said he had attended a Steubenville trip with CYO members in the summer but  suggested a cooking class to get to know them better.

“The whole purpose was for them to learn something simple that they could cook for their friends and family under their parents’ supervision,” he said. It would be perfect for teens who are cash-strapped and can’t afford to take a date to a restaurant. “A homemade date,” Deacon Smith said.

He put together a simple menu with few ingredients:  Beef Stroganoff My Way with braised beef round served over egg noodles; a Caprise salad with roasted Roma tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil with vinaigrette dressing; chocolate silk pie; and vanilla ice cream.

“Egg noodle is the easiest noodle to cook,” he said. “Stroganoff can even be made in a crockpot, and the pie only has four or five ingredients. It is a simple custard-like pie. The ice cream is called Philadelphia-style ice cream without eggs. It’s heavy cream, regular milk, sugar and vanilla bean. Very simple and easy to execute.”

Deacon Smith separated the CYO members into groups, with each group being responsible for preparing one of the dishes.

When time came to prepare the Stroganoff, Deacon Smith expressed caution about the cognac.

“I put in the instructions that only mom could add the cognac,” he joked.

Jesuit sophomore Nicholas Sagona, 15, a CYO core team member, thought it was fun.

“I don’t really cook anything that sophisticated in my household,” Nicholas said. “So when they gave us a chance to cut things up and stir a pot of boiling milk, I thought it was interesting. ... I think I gained more of  general knowledge of how to work my way around the kitchen.”

Mount Carmel junior Bailey Wheeler, 16, also a core member, enjoyed cooking with her friends. She was familiar in the kitchen because she cooks at home with her family. The experience not only gave her tricks of the cooking trade but showed her a different perspective on religious life.

“When I think of priests, deacons, sisters and brothers, I think all they do is go to church and study about the Lord and pray,” Bailey said. “To find out he went to culinary school and wanted to be a chef his whole life and then, out of nowhere, he wanted to be a priest and decided to go to seminary, that was cool. To hear his story was pretty amazing.”

CYO members went home with a booklet of the recipes they had prepared.
Since Notre Dame Seminary is under renovation, Deacon Smith said he will remain in residence at St. Rita, even though his internship is completed. He hopes to lead another cooking class, possibly in the spring.

Erin Maffe, youth coordinator/CRE for St. Rita Parish, was glad to hear that.

“The kids loved it. They want to do it again.”

Throughout the year, St. Rita’s CYO has parties but also prays the rosary at the abortion clinic, attends Abbey Youth Festival, World Youth Day and other events. The group meets weekly at 5:45 p.m. on Sundays and then attends Mass together at 7:30 p.m.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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