A culinary passion generations in the making

Featured Sliders / Food & Drink / HER Profile / Stories / November 12, 2019

Chef Amber Moore strives to inspire at Nichols Career Center

Story and photos by Sally Ince

Carefully leaning over a steaming pot, chef Amber Moore stirs through a batch of chicken and homemade noodles.

Her recipe for homemade noodles has been passed down from family member to family member with each generation striving to make it just as good as the last. It’s a recipe Moore never thought she would be making in her very own commercial kitchen, let alone a kitchen that also serves as her classroom.

Moore and Juanita Petershagen laugh as they make bread pudding at Nichols Career Center.

Allowing time for the flavors to set, Moore puts her pot on a low simmer and calls a group of her students to join her at a prepping

“This is my grandmother’s recipe,” she tells her students as she pulls out two large pans of cubed day old bread.

Combining cream, eggs and pure vanilla extract, Moore has her students whisks the ingredients together as she tells them a story of when she made the same bread pudding recipe for a class in culinary school.

Responding with memories of their own, her students began sharing the great, and not so great, dishes their families have cooked for them, followed with some light-hearted laughter.

Moore will typically have her students follow a specific recipe as she explains the process and assists them with their technique. But for this specific project, Moore recalled her ingredients and measurements by memory as her grandmother’s hand-written recipe cards, still smudged with her sticky fingerprints from years past, lay to the side.

Students Juanita Petershagen, Abigail Welschmeyer and Hanna Huhn soak bread cubes as they mix ingredients for bread pudding.

“My grandmother, bless her soul, she was amazing. She had three daughters which then had sons and they each had three or four kids so we used to have these huge Christmases and Thanksgivings,” Moore said. “It’s so unreal to me now thinking about it, but she would make sure what everyone’s favorite baked product was and she would make it.”

Although Moore gained a love for baking pastry as a child, she hadn’t realized her talent for crafting in the kitchen until adulthood.

After graduating high school, Moore enrolled at Lincoln University as a business major. Soon after starting her first semester, she also began working in the Schnucks bakery where she met Dennis Bahm, executive chef at Capitol Plaza Hotel.

Seeing her interest in cooking when he would pick up his daily loads of fresh bread, Bahm eventually offered Moore a job in his kitchen.

“I wanted to be moving and doing something so (Bahm) I think had kind of seen that and he introduced me into that world of culinary,” Moore said.

Moore’s recipe cards written by her grandmother sit piled on a prep table at Nichols Career Center.

When Moore accepted a position with Bahm, she became the first female to work on his cook line. She spent all of her extra time around classes to soak up as much experience as she could. Then, Bahm decided to take Moore to an American Culinary Federation meeting in St.Louis.

“On our drive back and forth he told me, ‘if you’re really interested in this, you need to go to culinary school,’” Moore said.

Having gained more interest in cooking rather than sitting through classes for a business degree, Moore decided to take the leap and
further her culinary training.

“I think I was determined at that point because there was so much of a stigma about people working on the line not being able to make a living or anything. I thought there has to be more. You wouldn’t see people on these TV shows or you wouldn’t have all of these famous chefs if there wasn’t more,” she explained.

Moore toured three culinary schools, but when she visited the Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach that year, she found exactly what she was looking for.

A piece of bread pudding is plated.

“(Bahm) told me I would know the right school for me when I walked into it and I did! When I was in West Palm and we, my boyfriend and I who is now my husband, walked in the doors and I was like this is where I’m supposed to be,” Moore said. “My poor husband. We sold everything that we had and drove 15,000 miles in a little Honda to put me through school.”

In addition to her courses at the Florida Culinary Institute, Moore worked her externship at the Breakers Hotel and gained a love for entering cooking competitions. To further her expertise, she began spending every Sunday for six months working with the master pastry chef at the Everglades Club.

“I told them I wouldn’t stop competing until I got my gold medal,” she said.

In 2011, Moore won gold in an American Culinary Federation competition while coaching a five-student team in French cuisine.

Hanna Huhn butters dinner rolls while Moore looks on during a class at Nichols Career Center.

Moore had certainly learned some new tricks while she advanced in her craft as a student, but she never forgot her roots and her family recipes that she grew up with, such as the homemade noodles.

“I can remember my mom teaching me how do it when I was a teenager and passing it on,” Moore said. “One time I made them for one of our chef instructors for a holiday dinner because my husband and I couldn’t make it home. I took the noodles and he’s German so he was like ‘these are like spaetzles! These remind me of my grandmother!’ So even though it was across the world, it was still the same and a tradition for his grandmother to
make these, so it was kind of surprising.”

By the time Moore graduated from culinary school, she had earned an associate’s degree in international baking and pastry, an associate’s degree in culinary arts, a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and enough professional experience to begin her own catering company in West Palm Beach, working as a private chef for prominent figures such as Venus Williams.

But after a few years, Moore was ready for a slight change.

Having learned to give back at a young age, Moore reflected back to the first time she was taught how to help others.

Moore tops a dish of bread pudding with a sweet bourbon glaze.

“All of the families would get together and bring different Christmas cookies and we would bring them in and share them. But then at some point my grandparents noticed the neighbors down the road didn’t have money for their Christmas and cookies and dinner, so we ended up taking some of our Christmas batch down to them and I remember that was the first time I had ever encountered someone less fortunate than us who couldn’t have Christmas. Then it just sort of became a thing, I think we just started doing it from that point on. We would just all bring these different kinds of cookies and then give them to all the neighbors around my grandparents farm,” she recalled.

While still running her catering company in Florida, Moore found another way to give back through teaching. She began teaching local high school students through community courses. Then when the decision came to move closer to family in Jefferson City, she found a way to continue passing on her culinary knowledge to students through the Nichols Career Center with the Jefferson City School District.

In front of a room of school board members and superintendents, Moore showed how much young adults could benefit from such a program.

“I said to the board when I introduced this class that if I would have had this in high school, I wouldn’t have wasted that year and a half floundering over this and then having to chance into it on my own,” Moore said. “I wanted it for these kids. They have that opportunity at 17, 18 years old to be like ‘wow this is it’ and if you could just see their faces at the end of the day of being in lab, making those recipes and then presenting them. They’re just waiting for you to take that taste and they want to be critiqued, they want to know is it good or is it bad, what do I need to do and you see they want to make people happy tasting their food.”

Moore serves chicken and homemade noodles during her class.

Moore is now in her fourth year leading the culinary program at Nichols. For her, it’s not only teaching her students how to craft with precision, but how to cook with a passion for creating.

“I tell my students that if they try and put forth their effort and all of their heart … it’s going to come out perfectly,” she said.

With sweet and savory smells filling her kitchen, Moore divides her chicken and noodles into portions and tops her bread pudding with powdered sugar and a sweet bourbon glaze.

Her family recipes had become the perfect example of how to create something with love. Moore was proud of what she made and it resonated in her dishes.

When it comes to holiday cooking, Moore said she loves passing down her family traditions.

“Just remembering the feeling of the warmth, the way it was in that kitchen and how much time and effort she (her grandmother) put into it. I think my nieces, now growing up in this environment and us doing this with them every Thanksgiving and Christmas, are starting to understand the traditions and what that warmth is. Just hearing them say they want to help takes me back to when we were in my grandmother’s kitchen so now I see why we’d want to pass it on,” she said.

And in a few months, Moore will have another family member to pass down her traditions to, as she and her husband are expecting their first child next year.

“Going through all the recipes with my mom, and especially with how long they’ve been passed down, it was hard to keep it together and not start tearing up because I just wanted to tell her so badly that I’m pregnant. She’s my role model so it means a lot. She never expected that this would happen with me, so I want to tell her that I’m so excited to be able to pass on these recipes and these traditions to my own child,” Moore said.

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