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Photo by Denton Dooley ©

Rosalie DeAstis // Features Editor

It was just a few years ago when Beatrice Maldonado’s cooking obsession was restricted to making dinner for her family every day. Today, she has taken the fascination to the next level by getting one of her recipe’s published in a cookbook, working as the lead cook of a children’s school, all while participating in the college’s culinary program. 

“Cooking is my world. It makes up majority of who I am,” said Beatrice Maldonado, 26 year-old culinary student, who is sad her time at the college is coming to an end.

“I don’t want to leave. I love the people, and I hated school until I came here.”

Maldonado grew up in Naperville, was involved with theatre at Naperville Central High School, and was always cooking for her family, who eventually let her take over the daily meals because of how great she had become. At first, she was confused about her major, switching back and forth between journalism, English and literature at Eastern Illinois University. During those of couple years, she was living on her own and cooking for herself every day.

“Cooking made me feel better because I wasn’t happy with what I was studying.” When she finally came to this realization, she started to look at cooking programs and brought the idea up to her parents.

“They didn’t understand at first. They wanted more of a traditional college experience for me – like at a four year university.” Maldonado began to visit other schools despite her parent’s opinions. It took a few disappointing experiences to lead her to this campus.

“Some schools like to make a career in cooking glamorous. They like to show off their affiliation with the Food Network to gain enrollment,” she said.

“COD was honest. They warned me about the long hours, not having holidays off, and not having a lot of benefits.” Surprisingly, that’s all Maldonado wanted to hear. She knew the food business was not as romanticizing as some may think and she was ready for the dedication it was going to require. She appreciated how the college was completely straightforward with her. In fall 2011, she began her culinary education here and couldn’t be happier about her decision.

“School finally made sense,” said Maldonado, who is thankful for all the amazing people she’s met here that inspire her to keep moving forward with her dreams.

“All of the chefs are terrific. I look up to them and their work ethics.”

This past May, she was given the opportunity to work for the Oak Park & River Forest Day Nursery, a company committed to serving family style meals. The Day Nursery centennial committee chooses from a large selection of dishes and recipes to feed their children home cooked meals every day. Maldonado is currently the childcare center’s lead cook and appreciates the strong connections she’s made while working there. One being with centennial committee member, chef and noted food columnist Melissa Elsmo.

Photo by Denton Dooley ©

Elsmo, along with the rest of the committee, decided to create a cookbook for the organization, Dining with the Day Nursery: One Hundred Recipes Celebrating One Hundred Years of Service, which will feature a variety of dinners that are served at the nursery. However, over the years some recipes had gotten lost and Maldonado was happy to help recreate one that was served in 2002.

“Maldonado took special care to create a version of a French classic that simplifies the recipe for home cooks and reduces the cooking time to make the dish suitable for hectic Monday through Friday meals,” said Elsmo for The Local Dish section of Oak Park’s local newspaper, Oak Leaves, in the Sept. 15 issue.

Maldonado took the time to take the traditional flavors of a recipe for Coq au Vin, which includes chicken, mushrooms, and many other flavors, and infuse it with her infatuation for Latin cuisine.

“I always try to incorporate my love for Latin cooking into my projects.” The cookbook will be released this month and Maldonado is honored to be contributing to such a meaningful project.

Aside from all her time spent running the nursery’s kitchen, she also is interning at Taste of Brazil twice a week, a small family owned restaurant in Oak Park. This internship is one of the last steps for her completion of DuPage’s culinary program. Prior to interning there, Maldonado worked at the business for two years.

“Working there eight hours a day, every day, I picked up Portuguese and my Spanish improved,” she said. This is something that Maldonado is pleased about because it further connects with her appreciation for Latin cooking.

In the future she hopes to travel to San Luis Potosí, Mexico, to study their culinary practices.

“A lot of the Latin foods are too Americanized here, so I’d love to go back to their roots and learn more by traveling.”

Photo by Denton Dooley ©

Maldonado has also been building up her own catering business, called Provecho, the past six months. Just by networking and handing out business cards, she has already catered a number of holiday parties, benefits and corporate events. She composed her own menu for the business, which is all Latin gourmet. Provecho is one of Maldonado’s main focuses right now, and she’s excited to see it grow.

Maldonado will be graduating in spring ’14 with her associates degree in applied science and plans on becoming a certified culinary chef through the American Culinary Federation after COD.

“I cook as much as I can. I want to keep striving.”

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