JEROME, Idaho – For executive chef LuAnn Stites Kraft, working at the Monastery of the Ascension is like cooking for family.
“I know what they like and what they don’t like and what they should like,” Kraft said with a laugh.
She has worked at the monastery for seven years and prepares meals for a community of 15 Benedictine monks. She is the monastery’s only full-time employee.
She still remembers the first time she made a meal for the monks. The meal was a success, but she forgot one little thing.
Kraft said she was approached later by one of the monks and told, “We like a little something sweet after dinner.”
Now, Kraft said, she always makes sure she has a dessert after meals – homemade puddings, flan, cakes, tapiocas and cobblers.
Some of the monks occasionally help prepare meals. And after everyone is finished eating, they do the dishes.
On Feb. 8, Kraft sat at a table in the dining room of the monastery going over paperwork before she had to prepare that night’s dinner.
“Food is such a unifying force. It’s that love, the love that’s in the food,” she said.
Kraft said she cooks from scratch using fresh and local foods. She orders food from Cloverleaf Creamery, Falls Brand, and M & M Heath Farms. She also keeps a small garden on the property.
She likes to serve local and fresh, even though that’s not what she grew up eating.
Kraft, a mother of five, said when she was a child her mother was a “mom of the ’50s.”
“We had a lot of canned soups and casseroles,” she said. “Salad was iceberg lettuce with Thousand Island dressing.”
Her favorite cuisine now is ethnic foods, and she loves to make soups.
“I want something from the heart … I’m not talking about five-star, but real food for real people,” Kraft said.
Kraft cooks meals not only for the monks who live at the monastery, but also the hundreds of people who visit every year.
The monks’ main ministry and community outreach is offering Benedictine hospitality, according to their website. To further that ministry they operate the Ministry Center, a guest and retreat house.
The center hosts periodic retreats, workshops, conferences and classes. In the summer it hosts programs for Road Scholars, a not-for-profit educational travel organization.