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Bayside’s little chefs learn the secrets of Italian cuisine

Fifth- and sixth-grade students of Robert Bellarmine Elementary School present Chef Grace Lupo of Bayside's L'Italiano Trattoria with gifts, thanking her for a year's worth of cooking experience. Photo by Phil Corso
TimesLedger Newspapers

Last week marked a different kind of graduation day for some fifth- and sixth-grade students from St. Robert Bellarmine Elementary School. Instead of walking away with diplomas, they went home with plaques, full stomachs and a year’s worth of cooking experience.

Students of the Bayside school’s cooking club wrapped up their first year inside the kitchen of chef Grace Lupo at L’Italiano Trattoria June 13 by assembling a grand feast to share with their parents, teachers and each other.

“I didn’t know how to cook at all before coming in here. I used to watch my mom do it,” said sixth-grader Albert Cusumano. “Now I pitch in more at home and learned how to cook so many things.”

Cusumano, who said his favorite dish he learned to cook was a calzone, remarked on the key lesson Lupo said she was setting out to teach.

“The food we make here doesn’t taste like the stuff you’d get from a box,” Cusumano said.

Lupo, who gives weekly cooking lessons to adults on Saturdays inside her Bayside restaurant, at 216-10 Horace Harding Expwy., said she could not think of a better age to learn how to cook than the 11- and 12-year-olds who trickled into her kitchen each week with open minds and mouths.

She said she learned how to cook around the same age alongside her Sicilian mother and grandmother, where she discovered the importance of quality.

“I was brought up to always bring the family together through good cooking,” said Lupo, the youngest of six children. “Hopefully, the kids will pass the message along that not everything has to come from a box.”

Throughout the year, Lupo carefully guided the score of kids through her specialized techniques in cooking various dishes, including chicken fingers, meatballs, zeppoles, rice balls, chicken soup, fried calamari and more.

Third-grade teacher Laura DiMarcello runs the club and initially reached out to Lupo to bring the kids into the kitchen in the fall.

“Grace is great with the kids,” DiMarcello said. “She keeps them excited and even inspired some students to want to become chefs.”

That’s exactly what Justin DiPaolo said in a prepared speech right before the class dug into their meals. In an attempt to show their gratitude to the Bayside chef, the cooking club stood united wearing purple “Cooking with Grace” T-shirts to present Lupo with a signed pot, a personalized poem and prepared statements.

“Grace is an inspiration to all of us,” DiPaolo said. “I’ve enjoyed cooking with her so much I’d love to be a chef one day.”

Lupo’s eyes filled up with tears while she heard the students’ remarks and she returned the favor with personalized “Chef of the Future” plaques for each little chef.

DiMarcello said this was the first time the school had worked in Lupo’s kitchen and the program would continue next year with openings for more students.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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