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If the cooking gene truly was in my blood, maybe all it needed was a little nudge in the right direction.

Cooking has been an art form in my family for as far back as my family tree goes. It seems to be inherited like a gene, passed down from mother to daughter ever since fire was invented.

My mom told me that I, too, would become a great chef and someday my daughters would, too.

But I never seemed to excel in the kitchen. I'm clumsy by nature, and my eagerness to learn seemed to be overpowered by my proclivity for accidents. Perhaps the cooking gene had skipped a generation.

After one mishap too many, I decided it was safer for everyone if I stuck to reading the recipe while my mom made the magic happen.

But I was sad that I wouldn't be able to add to the giant book of recipes that had been handed down through my family for so long.

So when I learned that my school offered a culinary arts class before school, I threw caution to the wind. If the cooking gene truly was in my blood, maybe all it needed was a little nudge in the right direction.

Our first assignment was to make cookies. Easy enough, I told myself. I had made cookies before.

Well, no, I hadn't. I had measured out ingredients, spilled them all over the counter, and let my mom clean up the mess before she finished making the cookies. But now I had one clean kitchen, one recipe to follow, and absolutely zero help. How hard can it be?

As it turns out, pretty hard. The cookies came out pretty hard as well. I still have no idea what I did wrong. But they were edible, and pretty good if you microwaved them first. That was the first dish I had ever made with no help, and I somehow managed not to burn the kitchen down.

Week 2: Family recipe. I picked a family favorite that also was pretty simple: meatballs with rice inside. My mom invited my grandparents up to enjoy the meal when it was done. This was my grandpa's favorite meal ever. And I was tackling it for the first time, completely on my own. No pressure.

Believe it or not, this was the first recipe that actually came out tasting like it was supposed to. Minus the minor burns on my hand from boiling tomato sauce, everything went according to plan.

I actually made a few minor changes to the recipe, because apparently the only spices they had in my great-grandparents' day were salt and pepper. I took full advantage of my mom's stocked spice drawer: a little oregano, a pinch of basil. It was a hit.

I had to write up the recipe for class, and my updated version was placed right next to the original in the cookbook with all of the other family recipes.

My third assignment was the one I was really dreading: stir-fry. For those who are not educated in the culinary arts, stir-fry means knives. And fire. And boiling oil.

But no way was I going to let myself get a zero over one stupid stir-fry. So I went out of my way to create a new, never-before-seen recipe that would result in as little danger as possible while still tasting great. I avoided anything that needed peeling and stuck to things that needed little preparation, like shrimp and sugar snap peas. And I threw in some pineapple for good measure.

What came out of this was a delicious new recipe with a catchy name: Kaleigh's Island-Style Surf and Turf Stir-Fry. And it actually turned out OK! I did not cut off my fingers, singe my eyebrows, or burn down the house. As well as not being deadly, it was downright delicious.

After getting the seal of approval from my family members, my brand-new stir-fry creation was added to the family cookbook. My very own minimal-risk recipe will someday be handed down to all of the Henderson generations to come.

I learned that the cooking gene isn't a gene after all. It's a passion that a parent has, a passion so infectious that their child will strive to emulate it. And with a bit of trial and error, any passion, even cooking, can be learned.

I've only been in the class for three weeks, and I've already made three recipes and gotten two into the great historical family cookbook. And I've discovered something even better than a magical cooking gene: confidence. Although accidents inevitably will happen, I will learn from them instead of giving up.

Maybe someday my own kids and grandkids will look up to me, talk about Grandma Kaleigh and her cooking skill. Maybe someday my granddaughter will come crying to me, complaining about her inability to cook and her tendency for disaster. I'll tell her to practice, but more than that, to believe. Believe that she can cook and that what she does cook will taste good. No matter how many times she fails, she has to pick herself up and try again.

Because there is no such thing as a cooking gene. There is only the ability to keep cooking.

Kaleigh Henderson is a junior at West Linn High School.

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