Amateur chef eyes career in food prep

I am Alexa Christensen and I have lived in Marquette for most of my life. I am currently a senior at Northern Michigan University in the hospitality management program.

When I started the program, I wasn’t all that interested in food preparation. I was more interested studying lodging and tourism. But after taking the required professional cooking classes, I found out that I love cooking and eating.

After completing the cooking requirements, I served as a teaching assistant in the professional cooking class. Among my proudest accomplishments was being selected as the student executive chef of the hospitality management end-of-year banquet where over 100 guests were served a themed dinner of six courses. This was a challenging, learning experience.

I have been a cook at the Sweet Water Cafe, located on North Third Street in Marquette, for the past year. I have enjoyed working there because I admire their philosophy of using fresh ingredients and making recipes from scratch. While working at the Sweet Water, I get to let my creativity run wild, making daily specials for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

My experience at the Sweet Water has shown me how using fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs can impact most recipes.

I am currently working at a preschool for the summer. While taking time away from the professional kitchen, I am hoping to rediscover myself in my personal kitchen. I hope to use the summer months as a time of learning and experience. I plan to experiment with new recipes and improve recipes I already know and love, including desserts, meatless entrees and more extensive use of seasonal, local ingredients in everyday cooking.

I also plan to try new techniques like making a pizza on the grill, pickling and canning, using items from my own garden. I will also spend time reading many articles on restaurants, kitchen tools and food preparation. I hope that by writing this column, I can share things I am trying for the first time and things that I enjoy and understand.

This summer I have planted an herb garden, my first attempt at growing anything. My garden started off in egg cartons. I got organic dirt from a local hardware store and got right to work on April 19. I planted mint, basil, oregano, chives, rosemary, dill and parsley. By May 9, I was digging into my dirt to insure I planted seeds because, after three weeks of watering and placing my plants in the sun, I still had nothing.

Finally on May 20, I started to see some green sprouts, which I ultimately transplanted into a gutter garden. A gutter garden is basically a garden that is planted into a rain gutter and hung on a fence or building. Mine is attached to the side of my deck at home.

I went to a local hardware store and bought two, 10- foot-long vinyl gutters, the gutter hangers and end caps. I also bought copper-colored spray paint to make my gutters a bit more interesting.

After a few coats of spray paint, my gutters were ready to hang. I hung them, drilled some holes for draining, filled them with potting soil and transplanted my seeds along with two mint plants I purchased from a local greenhouse.

When my plants are producing herbs, I plan to use the fresh herbs in recipes. I will use the mint and basil in infused water and lemonade. I really enjoy using herbs in beverages because of the added health benefits and amazing flavor.

One of my favorite infused water recipes is a simple mint and lemon water. Other infused waters include fruit such as berries, citrus and cucumber. Infused waters help transform boring, flavorless water into something interesting and delicious without adding sugar.

My heartier herbs I plan to use fresh or dry. I will use them to season meats and in everyday cooking. As I write this column, I will share my progress with my garden. I will also share recipes I have prepared or will be making with herbs.

I am looking forward to talking about food in this column. I would also love to give ideas about what to do with those pesky leftovers. Different types of kitchen tools interest me, so I would love to review tools that I have tried.

And of course, I will give you updates about my gutter garden, how my herbs grow and the ways I use the bounty of my garden.

Editor’s note: Alexa Christensen is a Northern Michigan University student and amateur chef who is interested in a career in food preparation.