Someone's in the Kitchen with Sarah: Jeremy Gardner and friends
SALISBURY — Unlike most college students, Jeremy Gardner wasn't in line to buy a gigantic television or scoop up $3 movies on Black Friday.
Instead, the 21-year-old Catawba College senior battled crowds at Kohl's to become the owner of a shiny, new griddle.
With a coupon in hand, Gardner got the deal he was waiting for. The griddle has become the star of his kitchen.
“It's been the best thing,” he said. “We've done burgers, steak, chicken, pancakes, eggs, sloppy joes and tacos on the griddle.”
The “we” Gardner is referring to includes friends and classmates Matt Gallagher, Alex Hodges and Jason Manaras. The guys gather in one of their apartments in Alexander Place at least four times a week for dinner.
“When there are four of us who will cook, it's easier if one of us takes a night,” Gardner said. “We swap it out so we're not doing the same thing.
“We don't get burnt out on cooking and we're having a good time.”
Now, I have to admit that when Gardner invited me to his kitchen, I wasn't sure what I was going to get.
During college, I rarely cooked. Most of my meals were salads, sandwiches or takeout.
I was surprised to find a group of college men who said they cook regularly. Until I arrived at their apartment, I wasn't sure how they define “cooking.”
Turns out, they keep it fresh and they keep it simple.
Manaras coated chicken breasts with olive oil before covering them with Lawry's Seasoned Salt.
Then he threw them on the griddle, of course.
While Manaras was doing that, Gardner and I worked on the asparagus and an interesting cheesy potato concoction.
For the asparagus, Gardner simply chopped off the ends and threw it in a baking dish. He doused it in olive oil before sprinkling Italian seasoning and garlic salt on top. He didn't measure, just poured it on.
We popped the asparagus in the oven on 350 degrees and set the timer for 20 minutes.
I helped dice up the potatoes for next dish.
It was pretty easy to make. All we did was dump a can of cream corn into a hot skillet before adding the potatoes. After the potatoes were soft, Gardner shaved off about a half block of Monterrey jack cheese. When the cheese was melted, it was done.
It took about 45 minutes to make the entire meal, which was really delicious. All of the flavors went together well and I didn't feel exhausted from trying to make something super complicated.
The guys have gotten cooking down to a science. They've figured how to make a variety of meals for about $20.
“It's good and it's real cheap,” Gardner said.
Learning to cook
Gardner joked that he's cooked more meals in the past year than his mom did when he was growing up.
Apparently, his dad is the chef in the family.
“I started paying attention to what he was doing before I moved out on my own,” he said.
Manaras said both of his parents cook and he simply “watched and learned.”
“When I moved out they gave me tips on easy recipes and stuff that would be cheaper to make on a college budget,” he said.
Gardner said the men are constantly trying new things.
“If we see something at the grocery store, an interesting sauce, an interesting spice, we'll pick it up,” he said. “We also try each other's foods and see what we can do to make it different.”
Gardner said they don't cook like “normal people.”
“When I say 'normal people,' I mean we don't use recipes or anything,” he said. “We just look at pictures or come up with random things and concoct a great dish, usually for an extremely low price too.”
Manaras said their cooking has involved a lot of trial and error.
“Everything we make we usually eat anyway, so it's not really an error,” he said. “It's just a question of if we like it or not.”
Manaras said he enjoys having friends to collaborate with in the kitchen.
“It's nice to have people who want to cook with you,” he said. “They'll help give you pointers on what you're doing well and what you need to change.”
Creating a meal is part of the fun, Gardner said.
“I'm not going to a restaurant and ordering it,” he said. “This is my own, it never takes very long and it always tastes very good.”
When the guys are done with their creations, they typically post a photo on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag Eating Like a King.
“That's what we always say because we're eating so well,” Gardner said. “Home-cooked meals are something I know a lot of college students love and we get them almost every night.”
Sometimes that bragging leads to extra mouths to feed.
“We have students begging to come eat with us because we post what we eat and it looks so good,” Gardner said. “Friends come over all the time.”
Gardner said people typically want to know their secret, but they don't have one.
“There's no special trick to making a quick meal,” he said. “You've just got to cook it yourself.”
Luckily, the guys agree on another thing.
“We all do the dishes,” Gardner said.
Cooking with these guys was such a blast. They had me laughing the entire time and I was surprised that a little creativity is the key to a delightful meal.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.