chef1Marita Makurat Pietrykowski, “Chef Mic,” poses in a kitchen classroom at Waukesha County Technical College on Tuesday, Jan. 31. A 1970 Mount Mary College graduate, Pietrykowski was awarded the college’s 2010 Madonna Medal for Professional Excellence for her leadership in the community and in her profession. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)Although she considers herself a late bloomer, Marita “Mic” Makurat Pietrykowski’s cooking expertise has captured the attention of a number of people, including those from the American Culinary Federation-Chefs of Milwaukee, the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast, and Bishop Richard J. Slkba.

“I had the privilege of cooking for him when he came to our parish for confirmation,” she said. “He sought me out, telling me that the chicken I served was the best he had eaten, and that he had eaten a lot of chicken dinners at confirmation time.”

The 63-year-old chef and member of Queen of Apostles Parish, Pewaukee, was awarded Mount Mary College’s 2010 Madonna Medal for Professional Excellence.

The award is presented annually to a graduate of Mount Mary College who exhibits extraordinary leadership skills, and passion in her profession. According to Jessica Pelnar, alumnae relations assistant, Pietrykowski, who graduated in 1970, is a worthy recipient.

“Mic was chosen as a Madonna Medal recipient because she set herself apart from her peers in her outstanding professional excellence,” said Pelnar. “She sets a wonderful example for our students and alumnae. In everything she does, she is determined and passionate.”

A teacher with love of cooking

Although Pietrykowski graduated with a degree in secondary education, teaching middle school math for a year in Italy, she found her love of cooking after working as a dishwasher and in banquet set-up at Waukesha County Technical College in 1982.

“My friend, Anna Marie Urbanski, got me the job at WCTC; I used to watch the chef instructors and students and fell in love with the culinary industry,” she said. “I was given the opportunity to go through the apprenticeship program at WCTC and graduated in 1992.”

After graduation, Pietrykowski joined the American Culinary Federation-Chefs of Milwaukee and served as the organization’s first female president from 2002 to 2007. She was also the only female chef named Chef of the Year in 2002. In addition, she has served as advisor to WCTC’s Hospitality/Culinary Club for the past 10 years, worked with the campus co-op program, pairing students with restaurants, resorts and catering companies, and chaperoned students through the Study Abroad Program.

Love of cooking is ‘inherited’

The daughter of a postal worker and a nurse, Pietrykowski believes she inherited her love of cooking and food from her grandmother. Her specialties are Italian foods and the comfort foods her grandmother used to prepare. When she has time, she enjoys preparing family favorites for her son Rico, wife Susan and two children, of Washington, D.C.; and daughter Dawn, husband Chad and their three children who live in New Berlin.

“My grandma cooked the way all grandmas seemed to, a handful of this, a pinch of that, and a lot of love,” she said, adding. “And that is my recipe, too, now that I am a grandma.”

While avid viewers of the Food Network and other televised cooking shows might conclude that Pietrykowski develops a plethora of her own recipes and gleans ideas from the cooking programs, both could not be further from the truth.

“I think everyone adapts their own recipes; I had a recipe for lasagna that called for cottage cheese, but my family didn’t like the lumps, so I pureed it – simple things like that. I think a recipe is just a guideline; that’s why

I love cooking; you can play with your food,” she said, adding, “I don’t watch the chefs on TV because they are not real. Julia Child was real. My favorite chefs are my students – it’s great watching them create and grow and become self-assured.”

Lifetime scout still helps out

As a lifetime Girl Scout, Pietrykowski has held many positions such as troop leader, camp counselor and council president since joining at the age of 7; but she receives the most enjoyment through working with her granddaughter’s troop.

“I love showing them how to do stuff in a kitchen, such as making crepes and ice cream and pizzas,” she said.

As the Event Pathways manager of the Girls Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast, Megan Buehler appreciates Pietrykowski’s cooking expertise, as she has assisted Girl Scouts of varying ages with cooking, sustainability, restaurant associated jobs and new culinary technology used in garnishing.

“At the events, the girls learn about proper knife techniques, basic cooking skills, how to safely handle food and equipment and nutrition,” said Buehler. “The girls have the opportunity to tour the WCTC demonstration kitchens and culinary labs, and they gained insight into how to operate a restaurant, from back of the house food preparation to front of the house management where they actually serve their guests in their restaurant. The girls are also walking away with important life skills including teamwork, communication, learning patience and developing math skills.”

‘Great role model for the girls’

Over the past three summers, Pietrykowski has influenced the lives of 350 girls, giving them the confidence to cook for their families and perhaps consider a career in the culinary field.

“I’ve gotten to witness the great experiences she can provide for girls in a one-day experience, so I can’t even imagine the impact she’s had on those girls she spent an entire week with at camp or was the leader for over the course of a year,” said Buehler. “She serves as a great role model for the girls in many ways and is truly proud of their accomplishments at the end of the day.”

Not only are the girls pleased with their endeavors at the end of the session, many return for consecutive summer sessions, eager to seek out Pietrykowski to share their ongoing culinary accomplishments.

“Mic puts in a great deal of work into these events and despite them being long and tiring days, she is ready to make improvements for the next event and has the best experience for the girls in mind,” said Buehler.

Award recipient humbled

Receiving the Madonna Medal was humbling as well as an honor for Pietrykowski as she credits the college for preparing her to become a leader and a teacher.

“I was surprised to hear that I had been nominated and am so very grateful,” she said. “But it is the faculty and the staff who empowered us as students and that is what I strive to do for my students.”

In her quest to give back, Pietrykowski is active with Mount Mary as a class representative to the board of directors of the alumnae association.

“I am proud to do that and to help in any way,” she said. “Mount Mary was a great strength and peace in my life and remains that today.”

Although she retired from teaching full time at WCTC in July, Pietrykowski teaches in the family and consumer education division of WCTC and offers one or two day classes on various cuisines. She also continues to teach part time in the culinary management program and serves as one of the advisors of the student hospitality/culinary club.

“My final act as club advisor will be taking the students to Italy,” she said, “I am looking forward to that trip.”