- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - It’s just a test kitchen tucked away in the 401 Water complex in Downtown Peoria but Katy Ferrell calls it “a little rocket ship that’s just taking off.”

Ferrell started the La Petite Cooking School in July at the same 401 Water St. location where she briefly served as chef at the 401 Cafe.

“I just helped turn it around,” she said of her activities at the bistro. “We gutted the menu, prepared soups from scratch and brought in some fresh-baked goods,” said Ferrell.

With husband Chad, an attorney with Caterpillar Inc., Ferrell arrived in Peoria two years ago with the couple’s two young sons, now three and five.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Ferrell, 34, had another love along with cooking: dancing.

A ballet dancer who danced professionally with a troupe that performed in places like Paris and Las Vegas, she also was part of a USO tour for troops based at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

But the ballet scene wasn’t permanent. “With two metal pins in my toes, I found it was getting harder to compete with 19-year-olds,” she laughed.

With her dancing days over, Ferrell turned to the kitchen. “I’m a French chef by training, really a Persian-French style,” she said, showing appreciation for the fact she was able to study cuisine in Paris.

Ferrell practiced those cooking skills at French Toast before that restaurant closed in Peoria Heights last year.

As for her cooking school, the space may be small - about 300 square feet - but the work that went into planning it was not.

There was the 68-page business plan, regulations to be followed from the city and health department along with the physical setup of the kitchen, itself.

“Everyone has their own cooking station,” said Ferrell, pointing to four different stations where students can work in pairs to concoct dishes that don’t just sit on the stove.

“It’s 100 percent hands on. You cook your meal and then sit down and enjoy it. People are proud of what they make - and they have fun,” she said.

La Petite offers a variety of classes - for chocoholics, young people and others, including one for “grocery store gourmets.”

The challenge for that gourmet class is to make tasty dishes using four ingredients or less - “perfect for unexpected company or keeping up your busy lifestyle,” said Ferrell.

“It’s all about how creative you can be,” said Ferrell, referring to prepared dishes as well as the cooking school, itself.

“I love the variety the school offers. I try to think of different things we can do with them,” she said of her students.

With her cooking school partner, Angela Anderson, Ferrell said the pair make “culinary trips” to stay abreast of what’s going on in food circles. “We recently took the train up to Eataly Chicago (a collection of 23 different food outlets in downtown Chicago),” she said.

Ferrell also stays busy on the community front. Along with participating in the recent Market on Moss, the French Market held in West Peoria, she’s prepared dishes for special shows at the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

Ferrell wants to see her little rocket ship take off with plans for the cooking school to grow. “There are quite a few options Downtown. Time will tell,” she said.

But for now, she’s happy with her little kitchen. “I like the little hole in the wall school and I love the residents here and the folks next door,” she said, referring to neighboring 401 Water St. businesses.

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Source: (Peoria) Journal Star, http://bit.ly/1rTtcrp

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Information from: Journal Star, http://pjstar.com

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