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Student baker gives cooking presentation at TSAS
Keaton Beal, a fifth-grader at Richard Johnson Elementary School in Metlakatla, is joined by Tongass School of Arts and Sciences teacher Madonna Hall during Beal's demonstration of making cookies on Friday morning at TSAS. Staff photo by Danelle Landis

Daily News Staff Writer

Metlakatla’s Richard Johnson Elementary School fifth-grader Keaton Beal offered up a sweet lesson for Tongass School of Arts and Sciences fifth- and sixth-graders Friday morning.

Keaton, who has been serious about his baking passion since he was about 7 years old, visited TSAS to demonstrate how to make chocolate chip cookies.

Keaton said that it was his late grandmother, Patricia Beal, who taught him to bake, and he immediately loved it.

“My grandma Pat used to always bake for my birthday and everything, and weddings. It made me interested,” Keaton said after he’d finished the demonstration and waited for the school’s oven to preheat.

In the school’s classroom, Keaton stood at a table with his ingredients, tools and a white KitchenAid stand mixer. Nearly 50 students sat at tables arranged in a U-shape and on the floor facing Keaton. Each student received a piece of paper and a pencil, and were instructed to take notes about “What do you notice,” and “What do you wonder” as they watched.

Alongside Keaton, offering support, was TSAS teacher Madonna Hall.

Hall, now in her third year teaching at TSAS, said she well remembered Keaton’s baking talent from when she taught second-graders at Richard Johnson Elementary, and Keaton was in her class.

When she and her TSAS co-teacher Jade Wagner were creating lesson plans for their TSAS fifth- and sixth-graders, Hall said two areas of goals and standards they decided to focus on were measurement and geometry. One way to do that is with calculating measurements during cooking.

Then, Hall remembered Keaton’s skills.

She recalled one day, when he was in her second-grade class, Keaton disappeared from school. When she asked staff where he’d gone, they told her he’d gone home to work on a baking project he had started that morning for a student’s birthday.

“This was a second-grader, coming to school, then going home and frosting his cupcakes, then coming back,” Hall said.

“To his family, this is the norm, this is what Keaton has been doing for so long, is baking,” she added. But, she emphasized, she believes it is not exactly the norm — Keaton is extraordinary.

Hall invited Keaton to come to her class at TSAS to perform the cookie creation and baking demonstration, and Keaton arrived with his grandmother, Mary Samuelson.

Hall worked side-by-side with Keaton, measuring the flour, mixing the dry ingredients and showing the students methods such as leveling the ingredients and creaming the butter.

Wagner led the students through an exercise in cooking terminology, asking them to define cooking terms such as “knead,” “broil,” “simmer” and “tenderize,” that were written on the whiteboard behind Keaton and Hall.

Hall and Wagner also asked students to do the math as they doubled the recipe — multiplying three quarters of a cup times two, for instance. They also were asked to estimate how many cookies would fit on the pans, then to use multiplication to calculate how many pans of cookies would be needed to treat every student, plus visitors and classroom staff.

At one point, Keaton frowned at the dough he’d made and commented to Hall that something wasn’t right.

He then realized he’d forgotten the four eggs. He elicited impressed gasps from the audience when he deftly cracked and opened each egg one-handedly into a bowl. The dough finally looked right, and he added the chocolate chips as the mixer growled and chugged through the final step.

Keaton talked at a quiet table near the TSAS kitchen about how he had gotten drawn into baking with his grandmother Beal.

“One day, I asked her to come over and bake at our house, and we made a birthday cake for somebody, and she taught me to do these rose petal things,” he added.

He held up his phone to show a picture of the cake he’d made featuring the icing scallops at the edge of a cake. Keaton had colored the icing — using a family recipe given to him by an aunt — with blues and greens, then slightly blended them to make the sides of the cake look almost like an ocean painting. He had festooned the cake’s top with large, sculpted flower-like decorations, delicately tipped with more of the blue-green icing.

Inside the cake was a riot of color — orange, yellow, green and purple swirls.

Keaton said he’d used six boxes of cake mix to create separate colors then layered them in the cake pan to make the brilliant confection.

His baking avocation recently took a more serious turn, when he was paid to create a wedding cake for a Metlakatla couple. Keaton said he’s hoping to create another wedding cake using the scallops to decorate it.

Keaton said he bakes often at home.

“My parents know I know what to do,” he said.

He also has delved into teaching his skills, recently offering a demonstration at his Metlakatla school, which he said was a bit easier than the one at TSAS Friday morning. His class has fewer than half the students than the class he addressed Friday morning, and he knows all of the kids.

“It was nerve wracking,” he said of his demonstration at TSAS.

He added that he had been excited to meet some new friends, however.

He also has been teaching his good friend and classmate Lovell Lee Yeltatzie how to bake. The first lesson involved making mini cupcakes, Keaton said.

“Then, she really liked making them so she asked me if she could come over a few days later and we made cookies after that,” he explained.

Keaton said they’ve been baking together regularly since.

His advice for kids who might want to start baking was to take notes, and to refer to them often.

Keaton said he takes notes while learning from videos created by his favorite chef, Rosanna Pansino.

“I don’t have a cookbook. I have YouTube,” he stated.

He said he finds the only real difficult part of baking is “getting really tired after standing up too long.”

As Keaton reflected on the moment when he realized he’d forgotten the eggs in the cookie dough earlier, he predicted that adding the eggs last, rather than in the prescribed earlier step, was going to make the cookies even better.

That prompted him to share his favorite part of baking.

“Making mistakes,” he said, grinning. “They’re always funny to me.”