Clad in a blue apron, Mati Ciprian hunched over a hot stove.
Her blue eyes narrowed on the boiling pot. This penne pasta had to be "al dente."
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The student in a Harper College culinary class not only had to impress her instructor, Pieranna Fanella, who has 25 years of cooking for an Italian husband under her belt. Mati also knew her pasta primavera will act as one of the main courses in a lunch Thursday for homeless families at Journeys-The Road Home in Palatine.
"I definitely want to make it the best for other people who don't have anything," the Bloomingdale 12-year-old said.
For the last three years, Fanella has taught youngsters how to prepare fresh meals in a sometimes cramped, loud kitchen, tucked away in a basement of an academic building on Harper's Palatine campus.
She expects tasty dishes, clean work stations and teamwork. It's a classroom where kids often say "please," taking turns juggling pots and utensils.
The students always brought home what they whipped up during the day for family dinners. Fanella, though, wanted to instill a lesson about hard work and selflessness.
So the Streamwood woman flipped open her computer and typed in "homeless shelter Palatine" on Google. With Harper's main campus in town, she wanted a local connection and decided on Journeys, a nonprofit group that works with PAD shelters in nearly 20 churches, and provides job counseling, among other tools.
She explained the assignment to a group of about a dozen kids Wednesday in Chocolate: From Bean to Bar, one of her four, two-week courses this month offered through a Harper summer program for elementary and high school students.
"You went to bed with a full stomach last night," Fanella told her students. "Some children your age did not."
By Wednesday afternoon, their work filled four shelves in a walk-in refrigerator. On the menu: focaccia bread, cheese pizzas, roasted veggies, mac and cheese, mostaccioli -- all homemade by kids, the youngest of whom is 8. And that's just the savory lineup.
Fanella hopes to feed at least 30 people.
"They've always worked very well as a team, but I think this brought the kids closer," the beaming teacher said alongside the finished product. "They're really working together to make it successful. I'm really proud of them."
Michelle Zhang, 13, said the assignment carries a broader message.
"You can do a lot with different talents you have to help other people," said the Elk Grove Village teen, who arranged neat scoops of white chocolate chip cookie batter on a baking sheet.
Even the "class clown," Josh King, 11, eagerly washed dishes and offered his electric mixer to a buddy.
"They've all bought into the giving back to the community and helping others and wanting to cook for other people," said Kevin Hahn, Harper's recreation and youth programs coordinator. "The group dynamic is very cool. They all work together on different aspects of putting a meal together."
Fanella hopes Journeys clients see more than a hot meal.
"We want them to feel that comfort and that joy and love we're putting into it," she said.