The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

In the Spotlight

March 23, 2012

Culinary 'chemist': Love of cooking is Westmont mom’s recipe for success

— Teena Petrus of Westmont has taught cooking classes, won ribbons at the county fair, serves as a field editor for a food magazine and enjoys cooking in her own kitchen.

“Cooking is chemistry,” Petrus said. “You need the right ingredients. Start mixing something together, and if you don’t like it, throw it out and start over.”

She has taught cooking classes at Community Arts Center of Cambria County in Westmont and Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center in the Cambria City section of Johnstown, but emphasizes she is not a professional chef.

“I don’t teach people how to be a chef. I just really enjoy cooking and want others to enjoy it, too,” Petrus said.

Petrus has taught cooking classes at Bottle Works for Pitt-Johnstown’s adult outreach program for several years.

“You need to have things half prepared and pre-measured when you give a demonstration,” Petrus said. “When you’re teaching, you have to be familiar with what you’re making so you can do it without looking.”

After receiving Taste of Home magazine with its collection of recipes for years and sending in her application for field editor, Petrus was finally accepted.

As a field editor for the monthly magazine, Petrus is asked to submit original family recipes, which are tested in Taste of Home’s kitchens before publication.

In the screening process, she was asked what she likes to cook, how she started cooking, her biggest cooking disaster and success and what she would like to see added to the magazine.

“They bounce ideas off me, ask for ideas for the book and what to do for the holidays,” Petrus said.

In addition to getting published in Taste of Home, Petrus has landed her recipes in the magazine’s annual book twice and has had recipes published in a local, weekly newspaper.

At an upcoming Taste of Home show at the Pasquerilla Conference Center in downtown Johnstown, Petrus will do some of the food prep work.

“I think there’s a trend back to home cooking,” Petrus said. “I pack lunches for my kids. The food is better.”

Recipes have even found their way into her job as administrative assistant in the main office at the Church of the Brethren Home, Windber, where she has worked since November.

“It’s a fun, nice place to work,” Petrus said. “I’m

working on a cookbook of community recipes that will be published to celebrate the home’s 90th anniversary this year. It’s my first project.”

Petrus looks over recipes that have been sent in to check for missing ingredients and other elements that don’t make sense.

“There will be old-fashioned recipes in the book,” she said.

“I’m typing them and have about 160. This isn’t only for the residents. Recipes can be from anyone in the community.”

Those interested in submitting recipes can send them to the home at 277 Hoffman Ave., Windber, Pa. 15963, email them to or call Petrus at 467-5505.

Petrus has won various ribbons for her cooking at the Cambria County Fair.

“This year, I want to get into baked goods at the fair,” she said. “My daughter has won a ribbon for her photography, and my son has won for making a chain-mail vest from pop tops.

“It’s a great family activity. I enjoy competing.”

Growing up in Windber, Petrus was the youngest child and only daughter in an Italian family with three brothers.

“I’ve been cooking my whole life,” she said. “I don’t remember ever not cooking, even if I didn’t like it at first.”

With a stay-at-home mother, everything was made from scratch, even the pasta noodles.

Petrus didn’t realize she was a good cook until she reached seventh-grade home economics class and found out her classmates couldn’t even make pancakes.

“I think people are afraid to cook because they can’t figure out the recipe,” Petrus said. “I don’t want to make them into chefs. I just want them to learn to cook and love it.”

For those who argue that cooking takes too long, Petrus says it’s not time consuming if you think and plan ahead.

She makes two dozen meatballs at a time and uses a

5-pound bag of flour to make homemade pasta, then stores everything in the freezer for later use.

“It’s nice to sit down to eat,” Petrus said. “My daughter and son help in the kitchen.”

While growing up, Petrus remembers her mother having a garden and canning whatever the family didn’t eat.

“I remember my aunts canning out of my mother’s basement,” she said. “My job was to make sure the jars were washed out.”

Petrus now has a kitchen in her basement and is starting to pass down the family cooking traditions to her daughter, Veronica, who is 13.

Her son, Donovan, is 18 and has begun his college career at Pitt-Johnstown.

“I want my kids to be brave and experiment in cooking,” Petrus said. “It translates to other things in life. I see life as a big restaurant. You either stand with a tray or be a chef.”

Petrus said she never imagined all of her cooking adventures when she was growing up.

“My family are my guinea pigs,” she said. “I can think something is wonderful, and my kids give it a thumbs down.

“Their favorite recipe is beef jerky.”

One dish that Petrus won’t make in any way, shape or form is liver.

She will make lasagna, even though she doesn’t like the ricotta cheese.

Petrus has taken cake decorating classes and would like to learn Indian cooking.

The Petrus family is rounded out by Mocha, a chocolate Lab; Jazzy the cat; and two ferrets, Carol and Neo.

Her husband, Larry, who enjoyed making meals for his family, died last March.

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