In Brown County there is a CIA, but it’s nothing like the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C., that tracks down spies.

Brown County’s CIA works to teach high school students the basics of cooking with a dash of international recipes.

But both have their secrets.

The CIA cooking club has decided not to tell people what CIA means.

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“We just decided that we’re going to let that be now. It was originally told to people, but now we’re just going to let it slide into history that we know what it stands for, but it’s not as much told to people,” said CIA guide Brandi Ireland.

Ireland has been a substitute teacher for Brown County Schools for six years. She decided to start a cooking club after home economics no longer was offered in school.

“It’s kind of bothered me for a few years, so this fall, I thought, ‘Well, let’s see about starting a cooking club,’” she said.

This spring, CIA took off. Five students attended the first meeting, and 14 attended the second.

“They’re so busy, and the fact that they want to do this and take time out of their homework and everything else, I’m just touched, really,” Ireland said.

Their third meeting, the second that involved cooking, was Feb. 12.

As soon as the students walked into the room, they began asking for cooking materials, and the chopping began.

That day they were making African dishes — West African peanut stew and Nigerian sesame cookies.

“I’ve always had a passion for cooking,” sophomore Taylor Brandasse said. “My mom and grandma were always the best cooks; and when you taste your mother’s food and you try to make it like her, you can never make it taste exactly.

“I thought this was something to benefit me in the future, as well as be fun.”

This is not a basic cooking class. The students have jumped into making international cuisine.

Ireland is trying to get them to make dishes from different countries at each meeting.

“I want to expose them to new things. They seem excited about it,” she said.

Sophomore Reyana Marchuck said, “Personally, I’m a picky eater. So trying new things here would be really good.”

From now on, Ireland will have the students pick the recipes.

“I will give yea or nays on them, but I’m not helping them if I pick them. Part of your learning process is going, ‘Oh, know how to do this,’ ‘We don’t know how to do this’ (or) ‘We don’t have time do this,’” she said.

Ireland has been cooking her entire life, but she describes herself as a “home cook.”

“As long as I can remember, I’ve been helping my parents,” she said. “Desire is what really matters.”

The club cooks a main course and a dessert at each meeting, as long as time allows.

Ireland said they might have to focus on one dish instead of two in the future because they try to keep the meeting from going past 5 p.m.

She makes copies of all the recipes the students use so they can keep them, and students take home any leftovers.

Purdue Extension joins CIA

The Feb. 12 meeting was the first meeting Lisa Wilson attended. Wilson is the Purdue Extension educator in the areas of health and human services and 4-H youth development.

“I am going to see what kind of resources that I have to bring to this program. I think, together, we can make a really good program and even expand it some,” Wilson said.

Wilson was already talking with principals about starting an after-school cooking program when she heard about CIA.

The Purdue Extension building has a fully stocked kitchen the club can use for kitchen supplies, which sometimes are an issue.

“We’ll be in the middle of a recipe and be like, ‘Oh, where’s the spoons?’” Ireland said. “I had to buy peelers; and their knives are terrible, so I brought my knives. I brought my pots today.”

Wilson wants students to learn how to eat healthy and prepare healthy meals.

“I think that it’s pretty easy for them to learn how to make convenient meals or box meals. But being able to cut up their fruits and vegetables and add all the ingredients together is something that if they’re not taught how to do, you’re not going to inherently know how to do that,” she said.

“We’re trying to lower obesity rates, and we’re not going to lower them without teaching them how to cook.”

If enough students get involved, they might be able to start two classes, one for beginners and one for international dishes, Wilson said.

Students, Wilson and Ireland also discuss recipes and meetings on their Facebook page, “Brown County High School CIA.”

Wilson keeps an eye on that page so she knows what supplies to bring to each meeting at the Brown County Junior High School’s staff kitchen, which is the best-stocked kitchen they have access to, Ireland said.

Funding, supplies needed

CIA is in need of some financial support.

“My friends and family have been very generous,” Ireland said of funding. “We’re trying to get the word out in the community.”

Ireland buys all the food needed for recipes and often brings cooking supplies from home.

“This is super great, and to be able to continue it with the proper funding would be amazing,” sophomore Josephine Armstrong said.

Marchuk agreed.

“Even if it’s not money-wise, we need more things to cook with, like a mixer, especially if we’re doing sweet and savory every week,” Marchuk said.

Donations can be made at Brown County High School. The group also has a GoFundMe account under “Brown County High School CIA.”

Even with funding issues and sometimes lacking adequate supplies, the students are continuing to learn.

“I’ve learned that cooking with a bunch of people is really hard,” Armstrong said. “The phrase ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ is, like, very correct, because when you get 10 or 12 of us all trying to cook around the same stove or all trying to wash dishes around the same sink, it gets busy, difficult.”

“I hope I learn to continue to work well with others and have fun and also to make some more dishes and learn some extra tips about cooking,” Brandsasse said.

Join, donate to the CIA

Brown County High School students can join the CIA cooking club free of charge, but organizer Brandi Ireland said they would like to get a final number of members soon because they would like to order T-shirts.

The club meets from 3:15 to 5 p.m. every other Thursday at the Brown County Junior High School’s staff kitchen.

Donations, both supplies and financial, can be dropped off at the high school. Checks may be made out to “CIA cooking club.”

The group also has a GoFundMe account under “Brown County High School CIA.”

Find the CIA cooking club on Facebook under “Brown County High School CIA” to learn more about the club and see what recipes they will be cooking next.

Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.