Gebhart cooks up recipes from scratch

Posted 4/18/12

Jacob Gebhart is like many other teenage boys in Cranston. He goes to school, he plays the trumpet and he plays soccer. Now, however, Gebhart is about to set himself apart from other local teens. As …

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Gebhart cooks up recipes from scratch

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Jacob Gebhart is like many other teenage boys in Cranston. He goes to school, he plays the trumpet and he plays soccer. Now, however, Gebhart is about to set himself apart from other local teens. As part of a yearlong school project for his eighth grade classes for the Pegasus Program at La Salle Academy, Gebhart is getting ready to publish his very own cookbook, the proceeds from which will benefit the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

"There were no directions for the project. You could create anything," said Gebhart. "You were advised to do something you enjoy so that you'd be inclined to stick with it. I've always liked to cook."

Gebhart decided to create a recipe and have the recipe posted in a local newspaper. However, his original idea of just one recipe evolved into what became an entire cookbook, with Gebhart creating every recipe from scratch.

"It was a long process, a lot of fun with a lot of learning points," he said.

Gebhart interviewed chefs from local restaurants and one of the chefs serves as his mentor for the project, something each student is required to have.

The project began one month into the school year and is due May 14. Gebhart is right on schedule with his cookbook, having mapped out the year, devoting blocks of time to each portion of the project.

"You have to manage your time well; you have to have a good plan," he said.

To that end, Gebhart decided to spend his entire February vacation week cooking the recipes from his cookbook for his family members. Some recipes were tried and true, while others were brand new recipes he had cooked up.

"My brother Michael came home from Indiana and helped me that week. We brainstormed different ideas of things that go well together. I didn't think I could do it, but they turned out pretty well," he said.

Gebhart cites a learning curve that comes along with creating recipes from scratch.

"There were some bumps in the road when I was coming up with the recipes. I'm willing to admit that sometimes I created something horrible," he said, remembering a recipe for banana rice krispie treats with peanut butter topping. "The rice krispie treat failed. It was really disgusting, really mushy and soggy.”

However, Gebhart kept at it, using tips from his mom and trying certain recipes over until he got them the way he wanted them.

"It was very hard to figure out the amounts of the ingredients. I had to play around a lot. Sometimes in a recipe I'd put too little cream and it'd be chunky or other times there wasn't enough flavor. Sometimes things came out too soupy," he said.

In some instances, Gebhart tried to create something new using an already established recipe, so he researched ideas on the Internet.

"There's a pretzel recipe in there with almonds and raisins. The idea for it was mine, the various parts of it were mine, but I didn't know how to make a plain pretzel. I had to adapt a plain pretzel recipe from the Food Network and then add the almonds and raisins on top," he said.

As the year went on, Gebhart was glad he had planned to devote so much time to his cookbook, as he found that he often had to make things many times before he got it right. He often had to choose between keeping up with his project and keeping up with outside activities, in addition to the regular rigors of the school year's assignments.

"Baking was definitely harder than the appetizers," he said. "Some recipes didn't take more than two tries. I just had to come up with the right flavor and commit to that, while others I was baking took three or four times.”

Although the appetizers were easier, Gebhart admits to having a sweet tooth, so he stayed committed to including baked goods in his cookbook, trying to keep an even balance between appetizers and desserts.

Gebhart already has the rough copy of his cookbook in hand, having typed up the recipes and photographed the food.

"That was hard too, you had to come up with just the right angle for the pictures, and I had to create a layout for the cookbook pages so that each page was using the same layout," he said.

Once printed and bound, the initial copies of the cookbook will be sold to family and friends, with the money benefiting the Food Bank. After that, Gebhart plans to give additional copies of the cookbook to the Food Bank where they can sell it as they see fit.

Gebhart is thankful to have had the support of his family throughout this process.

"My dad was very encouraging and supportive. My mom helped me cook and clean up. She's a really good cook, she gave me tips and techniques and she knew how to do a lot of stuff I really didn't know how to do," he said.

Throughout the cookbook readers will see stars next to certain recipes.

"Those are Jake's Favorites," he said. "Those are the things I most enjoyed."

Now that he has been exposed to the lifestyle of a chef, one who has created and published his own cookbook, Gebhart has the cooking bug.

"Before this I didn't cook every day, but I always enjoyed playing with the flavors, I enjoyed the science of it, whether it was making muffins for my mom on Mother's Day or playing around at home,” he said. “This has definitely opened my mind to wanting to attend a culinary college and get a job in a restaurant. I love that atmosphere and I want to get the feel for working in a restaurant and definitely become a chef when I'm older.”

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