What’s cookin’? Three area cooks find creative outlets

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Marjorie Finley, far right, teaches a cooking class attended by Madonna Hosch, Alice Reimer and Florence Gifford. She also writes an entertaining and informative food blog.

Jane Augustyn, Picket Fence Cafe in Guttenberg, is renowned for her pies.

Jeramey Burns, owner of Old School Catering, St. Olaf, gets ready to fire up his grill as he begins work on a catering order. He is one of several area people who are finding creative ways to use their cooking talents.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


Three area cooks—Marjorie Finley, Jane Augustyn and Jeramy Burns—have found distinctive and different ways to express their culinary creativity.

Marjorie has established a cooking school and also writes an informative, entertaining food blog. Jane owns a restaurant that has earned a well-deserved reputation for its homemade pies, and Jeramey has just launched a catering service.

Marjorie, a Des Moines native who came to Elkader several years ago to teach, learned cooking basics from her mom but got serious about food when her son, Tim, owner of Fennelly’s Irish Pub, went to culinary school. A major life decision strengthened her resolve to learn even more about creating wholesome and delicious foods.

“About six years ago, I joined Weight Watchers because I knew it worked and I knew it was time to take control of that part of my life,” she added. “After years of hearing people say ‘If it looks good or tastes good, I can’t have it,’ it dawned on me that I could teach people how to make the food we ate, which was tasty but healthy.”

Marjorie and her husband, John, have lost a combined total of 150 pounds eating the delicious meals she prepares.

Marjorie’s cooking school is designed for both novice and experienced cooks. She provides a menu, ingredients, step-by-step instruction and recipes for students who want a unique hands-on experience. Her classes end with everyone gathering around a table to enjoy the fruits—and meats and vegetables and desserts—of their labors.

Her food blog, which can be found on her website (www.finleyskitchen.com), provides more cooking and entertaining ideas. In a recent blog entry, she gave instructions on a complete meal for one that could be prepared in about the same time it takes to locate a frozen entrée in the freezer and microwave it.

“Cooking isn’t rocket science,” Marjorie said. “The first time through you follow the recipe to the letter. As soon as you learn the process, you can get creative. But you have to learn the process first—that’s the lesson my mother taught me.”

Jane is the owner of the Picket Fence Café in Guttenberg and is also a go-to caterer for the area. She grew up on a farm between Guttenberg and Clayton, about a mile from where she and her husband, Tom, have lived for the last 30 years. Food and cooking have always been a part of her life. Jane comes from a family of 11 children; she spent her girlhood years helping with farm chores and helping in the kitchen.

Jane and Tom also own the Clayton Ridge Farm Meat Market. The café, which Jane calls a natural extension of the market, features the couple’s meats and fresh-from-the-farm produce,

“I’m very proud to say that we’ve been selling locally raised, locally processed meats and produce for 23 years, and have been in our retail location for 17 years,” Jane said. 

Jane recently was chosen by an Iowa tourism website to represent her area in a “Pie Madness” contest patterned after the March Madness college basketball tournament. Her mouth-watering, crowd-pleasing Triple Fruit Pie made it to the final four.

“Pies have been a strong interest of mine since we opened the café,” Jane said. “I learned early from my Grandma Bries and my mom that the best ingredients make the best pies. I remember as a little girl making pies with my Grandma Bries and getting frustrated when I couldn’t roll the dough like she could. She always reassured me by telling me that ‘the more you do it, the better you’ll get.’ Well, she must have been right because I don’t have any trouble rolling out pie crusts anymore!”

The Augustyns also have a full-service catering business that can handle crowds of up to 500 people.

For Jeramey, opening Old School catering in February extends the good times and good food that have been a part of his family gatherings.

“I’ve always enjoyed a good, home-cooked meal,” he said. “My dad, Craig, and my Uncle Monty Burns had a cooker when I was in college that they used for smoked pork loin and beans. I always enjoyed helping them and always experimented with new recipes or other ways to use the cooker. So, in 2010 purchased my own pull-behind cooker.”

Jeramey had a five-year plan for his business that went out the window last year when he discovered that the old school building in St. Olaf was for sale.

“The name just fit the style I was going for,” he explained. “I was hoping to renovate the schoolhouse but unfortunately food regulations made that unlikely.”

Jeramey specializes in the smoked meats that he learned to make with his dad and uncle. His sides are all homemade. When he started catering, which is something he can do for groups of all sizes, pork loin was the most requested entree. Shredded pork, brisket and creamy bacon chicken now vie for top honors.

With a degree in elementary and special education, this Postville native has worked in education but he’s convinced that catering and not the classroom is where he belongs.

“I believe I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do,” he said. “It’s been an adventure and a big leap of faith at first but now that I have a great support system and knowing that I’m doing what I truly love makes all the stressful moments worth it in the end. I didn’t want to go through life not knowing what I could accomplish by following my dreams. That’s probably the best way of explaining why I’ve done what I’ve done.”

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