It was really just a simple luncheon: Watercress soup, quiche lorraine, marinated vegetables and a meringue dessert called pineapple Pavlova. But the soup called for 12 bunches of watercress and 30 cans of consomme. The quiche demanded four pounds of bacon, and there were five quarts of vegetables to be marinated. Just a simple luncheon - for 60.
The affair was the fourth weekly tasting session of recipes from "The Golfer's Cookbook," a collection of golfer's favorites edited by Rose Elder and scheduled for July publication. Elder is the wife and manager of professional golf tour star Lee Elder. She also works part time for PEPCO in the community relations department, where the testing luncheons are being held through May.
But the cooks working in the gleaming stainless kitchen were not Cordon Bleu graduates. The VIP luncheon was being prepared by nine young home economics students from MacFarland Junior High School and their teacher Anna Shelton. The average age of the chefs was 14.
Rose Elder seized on the idea of giving local home economics students a chance to show their stuff and promote her cookbook at the same time. Proceeds from the book will go to the Lee Elder Scholarship Foundation. Nine area high schools are involved in the testings. MacFarland ("Big Mac" as it is affectionately referred to) was the only junior high school chosen.
"We've had one ball ," Anna Shelton said surveying kitchen activities the morning of the luncheon.
Some of the food had been prepared the day before in the MacFarland school kitchen, but there were plenty of last-minute jobs - none of them easy.
Chopping onions was declared "the worst job in the kitchen," but Veronica Hicks, 14, didn't seem to mind.Was it better than being in school? "A little," she replied shyly. She cooks at home, and her favorite dish is barbecued chicken.
Two students were neatly chopping the sixth bunch of watercress while Diedre McCurdy and Wanda Musgrove stood at the stove frying strips of bacon.
"Excessive grease," Shelton declared. "Let's pour that off."
Two girls in charge of dessert were filling the meringue shells with custard.
"We tested the meringue recipe last week at school," Shelton said, "And it's a good thing we did. I knew the oven temperature was too high. But we made them anyway and they burned. There was a typographical error."
Valerie Douglas, 13, was systematically rotating heavy gallon jars of cut up cauli-flower, broccoli, mushrooms and carrots to distribute the marinade evenly.
"We had a time getting those jars," Shelton said. The students went around to local stores and collected used pickle containers, which tyey sterilized in class.
"This project is probably the most difficult we've ever had," she said.
Anna Shelton has taught home economics at MacFarland for the past 20 years. Last year she was voted the most popular teacher in the school.
"You know our school kitchen is the most old-fashioned in the whole city," Shelton said. "It's been scheduled for remodeling for the past 13 years."
She dashed over to the opposite counter.
"How you doing, child?" she asked a girl washing utensils and gingerly slid the student's wristwatch up and awy from the soapy water.
Two hungry students went off for a break.
"They come to school without any breakfast," Shelton said, "so by mid-morning they're starved. Then they go out and eat junk food.
"They know better. We try and teach them balanced meals and good nutrition."
Twenty minutes later the girls returned.
"Angle had french fries, and I had a soda. And a man asked us if we had seen any movies lately. We said 'Monkey Hustle' and he said that movie was about a monkey doing the hustle," they giggled.
The kitchen erupted with nervous laughter.
"If you don't have anything to do, don't get in the way," Shelton said. "Go in and sit down." No one did.
The home economics department at MacFarland has a food budget of $75 a month. One of its projects is making "supplemental foods" such as powdered eggs and canned beef more palatable. The class came up with a few good recipes, the students said, "like pizza and tacos."
As for this day's recipes, Shelton said her students are not used to working with such good ingredients.
When asked if she ever had boys in her class, Shelton said she had a whole class of them last year, who were "super." Her only problem was hygiene. "They came to class with dirty fingernails," the teacher said. Students are graded on neatness as well as culinary skill, and are penalized 15 points for chewing gum.
"What if the bacon won't crumble?" asked one student. The teacher's reply was direct. "Make it."
Rose Elder has arrived. It is 30 minutes before lunch time.
"I'm so proud of these kids," Elder said. "They have so much potential. I'd like to see the community more involved in projects like this. They could go out and start a rock band, but I think this is more fun."
Shelton gave last-minute instructions. "Try not to spill now. Turn the oven on at 12 for the quiche and if you burn them, I'll never forgive you."
She helped a student lift the heavy vegetable jars. "Oh, mushrooms," she sighed. "They taste so good but they look so funny." Two students smiled at each other.
"Now get out there and be pleasant," Shelton commanded. "And when it's done, let's not get bashful about washing dishes, hear?"
The guests, including Judge Harry T. Alexander and City Councilman Marion Barry, arrived. The luncheon was served buffet style and was pronounced a success.
There was only one slip-up. Shelton's name plate on the banquet table was misspelled. She took a felt tip marker and changed "Annie" to "Anna."
"I hate that name, Annie," she whispered.
From behind came a student's voice. "You can't win 'em all, Mrs. Shelton."
The teacher looked around. "Oh yes, we can," she said.