Burr Ridge parks chef shares her joy
Chef Mary Gail Bennett teaches cooking classes to children and adults at the Burr Ridge Park District. BURR RIDGE PARK DISTRICT
Education: College of DuPage culinary school
Experience: 25 years as a corporate trainer
Classes taught: 75 since last year
Updated: November 12, 2012 1:30AM
BURR RIDGE — There may be no one more excited talking about food than Mary Gail Bennett.
Whether it‘s using a knife technique or making a risotto or planning a menu, Bennett finds incredible joy in cooking.
And now she shares that joy with others teaching a variety of cooking courses for the young and old at the Burr Ridge Park District. There she teaches little ones that veggies and fruits are delicious choices to adults about how to braise a lamb. Her focus is to demystify the cooking process and create menus her students can replicate at home.
“My goal is to take what I learned at culinary school and bring it to the at-home chef,” Bennett said.
She taught classes at her home for about two years, but last year when Burr Ridge Park District was looking for a chef to teach classes, Bennett was a logical choice, said Lavonne Campbell, superintendent of recreation. Bennett’s children have enrolled in programs at the park district and she is a 23-year resident of the community.
Working in the park district can be hectic sometimes, Campbell said, but Bennett takes everything in stride.
“She’s just always so happy,” Campbell said. “She is always so optimistic, and she is always so calm.”
In addition to her classes, Bennett worked a Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business event where she taught attendees to make a tomato salad and crepes, Campbell said. She’s also cooked for other Burr Ridge events.
The park district has received many compliments about Bennett her teaching style and her personality, Campbell said.
“When she leaves the room people were happy that was there,” Campbell said.
Bennett’s mission isn’t just to create good food, but share the importance of healthy eating, especially in the classes designed for kids. When the kids make hot dogs, for example, they are using nitrate-free hot dogs. Young children assemble strawberry mice and make veggie dip and carrots.
The prep work for her classes can be extensive, planning her winter classes in May. And often her husband and two children have become her test subjects for recipes, sometimes having the same item a few times in the weeks before the dish will be taught for her students.
But in the end, the work is worth it, she said, when she gets to teach to her students.
“I really love every minute of it,” Bennett said. “It’s just a real pleasure.”