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Young chefs have an appetite to learn

Drake Johnson takes Cheney Middle School’s after-school ethnic cooking class because the 14-year-old likes to eat.

Alicia Fowler, 12, has a practical reason: “I’m depending on being a chef when I grow up.”

The two students along with about 25 classmates were in a flurry of activity Wednesday as teacher Diane Turbeville taught them how to prepare two Hawaiian dishes: huli huli chicken and pineapple upside-down cake.

The popular cooking class, supported by nonprofit Communities in Schools, is taught once a month. Sixth- through eighth-graders learn about nutrition, life skills, teamwork, following directions and even math during the two-hour class.

Cheney Middle School is one of just a couple schools in the region that offer an after-school cooking program. Principal Mike Stark said often there’s a waiting list for students to participate.

As Stark looked around the room, he noted students from all walks of life, not just the “good kids” or athletes. Kids who are normally shy “light up in this class. Kids I might normally see in my office are here, and they enjoy this class so much they were on their best behavior today.”

He added, “Every kid has to have a way to connect to the school, and this gives them that.”

School officials also think the celebrity chef television craze has helped the students shed stereotypes about cooking.

“It’s not just for girls anymore,” Stark said.

In fact, Turbeville added, “I have mostly boys.”

And boys in the class Wednesday weren’t ashamed to admit enjoying the class.

“I like to cook,” said Brennan Palmer, 12. “I like (‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ host) Guy Fieri; he’s pretty good.”

His cooking partner, 13-year-old Ryan Bandy, said, “I like to cook anything, because it’s fun.”

Turbeville teaches the students about cuisine from around the world. She’s used Greek, Mexican, Italian and Swedish recipes, to name a few.

She explains which pots and pans are appropriate for cooking particular items, how to safely use an oven and the differences between ingredients.

Turbeville also teaches students the importance of cleaning up after themselves, and that it’s OK to make mistakes sometimes.

“Cooks are like artists,” Turbeville said. “If you mess up a little, you cover it up by saying, ‘I meant it to be that way.’ ”