It’s ribeyes, not ramen, for this aspiring chef

By Katherine Wartell

Twenty-somethings aren’t exactly known for their skills in the kitchen. If you looked in the freezer of any given college-aged person, you’d probably find more than one frozen dinner.

But that’s not so for Kelsey Keagle, 23, a Kansas State University student who’d like to open her own restaurant one day.

Keagle routinely uploads photographs of the elaborate meals she makes — like ribeyes with an ancho chile rub served with mango butter, or pork tamales with a homemade tomatillo sauce — onto Facebook. So far, her crowning achievement was Beef Wellington prepared with mustard gravy and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. “It came out perfect,” she said.

Keagle grew up on home-cooked meals and said her grandmother has always been involved in the restaurant business. But, she said, she’s largely self-taught.

From the small town of McPherson, Keagle said there wasn’t much to do beyond hanging out with friends, during which time she began to experiment with cooking.

Keagle also helped with her mother’s salsa business, and in high school, she worked at the McPherson Country Club as a banquet server and waiter.

She honed her skills watching Food Network favorites like Paula Deen, Ina Garten and Bobby Flay, in particular. And though most people know Gordon Ramsay for his reality television persona, Keagle admires him for his culinary achievements, including receiving several Michelin stars.

Now, Keagle said she reads food blogs, like Joy the Baker and Smitten Kitchen, to find inspiration. Her preferred method of cooking is to gather a bunch of recipes for the same thing and then morph all of them into a recipe of her own.

“It allows you to at least know that your product will turn out somewhat well,” she said.

Of course, her experiments don’t always pay off. Keagle said her sister still teases her about fettucine alfredo she made in high school.

The recipe was supposed to be easy and called for cream cheese, but Keagle said, “It turned out to be the most horrid ordeal of my life,” she said.

Keagle said her skills really took off in the last three or four years when she lived by herself while attending college. Now, she has “a little black book of recipes.”

Keagle, who works as a server at Longhorn Steakhouse, said she uses her days off to cook her most elaborate meals, and on Fridays, she often bakes cakes or cupcakes for her coworkers.

Keagle is all about fresh flavors and cooking from scratch, and she said she would encourage anyone to try their hand in the kitchen, but she recognizes that people are put off by the commonly held belief that buying all the required ingredients is pricey.

Keagle, who lives and cooks with her boyfriend, who is a cook at Longhorn Steakhouse, said they spend only about $60 to $80 per week on groceries for both of them. They keep a staple supply of oils, flour and spices in their pantry and freeze their leftovers so they last longer. “Cooking for one is hard,” Keagle said. “Cooking for two is just right.”

After she graduates with a degree in public health and nutrition, Keagle said she would like to attend the Culinary Institute of Oregon in Portland. “Portland is a mecca for foodies,” she said.

And if not there, she simply would like to end up on the west coast; she has family in northern California.

Keagle’s not quite sure what type of restaurant she’d like to open, but if she were to open it right now, she would serve multi-ethnic cuisine, where foods from different cultures would be served as daily or weekly specials.

Mexican- and Spanish-infused recipes are her personal favorite. “It’s so easy and tasty, with bright, flesh flavors,” she said.

But if there’s one recipe she’d make to impress, it would be a marinated and grilled jerk chicken breast. In that recipe, she said, you pour half of a marinade made from soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, spices and fruit onto the chicken. Then you take the other half and add orange juice, thin it out in a saucepan and allow it to simmer so that it becomes a dark sauce to brush over the chicken while it’s grilled.

She pairs it with black beans and dirty rice.

Keagle was a computer engineering major when she first came to K-State. She knew she could succeed in that field, but realized working with food is what she really wanted.

“I just want to cook for people and make them happy,” she said.

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