Oysters Rockin’ Ella
WHAT DO THE Food Network, Emeril Lagasse, John Folse and Mandeville have in common? Ella Petitto. The high school sophomore has been busy since her 2016 win on national competitive cooking show Chopped Jr. and shared some of the highlights with us.
Like most 15 year olds, school is first and foremost. Ella was accepted into NOCCA’s rigorous culinary arts program where standard academic classes are paired with cooking instruction. The curriculum starts with cooking basics, knife skills, making soups and sauces, and then progresses through the study of regional fare and international cuisines. Says Ella, “It’s a tough program and you have to do well in your regular classes too. We went from 13 freshman students down to only 3 this year so you really have to love what you’re doing.”
And love is at the heart of Ella’s inspiration to cook. She says she began by helping her mother and grandmothers in the kitchen. “I still help with dinner when time allows. I like to bake and I like to make comfort food like red beans and rice for when you’re not having a good day.” Ella participates in charity and community endeavors and served as the guest chef at this past year’s Children’s Museum of St. Tammany fundraiser. She adds that she’d like to feed the less fortunate and has considered running a food truck one day to accomplish that. In the meantime, she’s gotten younger sister Alyssa into the game with their own small catering business called LuElle’s Pantry. A recent bridal shower job included jambalaya pasta, bacon wrapped asparagus, crawfish mac and cheese and mini pralines on the menu.
NOCCA and connections from the Food Network also afford Ella the opportunity to work with some culinary heavy hitters. She was awarded a scholarship to the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University by the renowned chef himself after being invited to cook with him at his Restaurant R’evolution. She also participated as a food preparation worker and assisted with plating at the prestigious Carnivale du Vin, a nationally recognized charity wine auction and gala in New Orleans put on by the Emeril Lagasse Foundation.
Is cooking Ella’s ultimate career goal? Possibly, but she says she’s keeping her options open. “Being a professional chef leaves little time for family and I’m also interested in medicine and law,” says the bright and hard-working teen. Whichever path Ella chooses, it seems that the world will be her oyster