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By ANNETTE HARVISON
Cooking is part of our everyday lives. Cooking gives us the opportunity to visit with family and friends and meet new people. In many instances, the kitchen is where family bonds are formed.
Some of the best memories are made in kitchens. Standing on a stool stirring in the pot with Mom or Grandma, learning the skill of making dumplings and biscuits and the sweetest of confections – those are the memories that last a lifetime and help shape who we become. For Shasta Molten, the daughter of Percy and Annie Molten, cooking in the kitchen became more than just quality family time, it became a way of life.
“Mom cooked a lot,” said Molten. “She baked cakes and pies and I started helping. Dad always smoked meats.”
The Molten family is known throughout the county for their cooking. Shasta said she began cooking with her mother when she was young and fell in love with it. When she was old enough to go out to get a job, she began working at Ward’s in Leakesville and also worked at Dandy Dan’s before venturing out with her family at Molten’s restaurant. She eventually left the restaurant as part of a big career change, but she didn’t leave behind the cooking.
Molten has catered many events for folks around the county. During the summer months, she opens the ‘Snack Shack’ in town and serves short-order menu items. She worked in the school cafeteria, and that is when her cooking career changed directions in a drastic way. While working in the cafeteria, longtime culinary instructor Jeanette Allen was retiring from her position at the Greene County Vo-Tech Center.
Though she said she did not feel she was qualified for the position, she applied after some thought and outside support. Dr. Tom Wallace was the director of the center at the time and told Molten to sit down with him to discuss the position
“I thought about it,” said Shasta, “but I didn’t think I had the right qualifications.”
That conversation was seven years ago and it turned out that getting the job was the easy part. Pushing herself through the many required classes and training conferences was the bigger challenge, but proved to be the right move. She still attends many training sessions to keep up the Continuing Education requirements and continue to grow as an educator.
“I had three years from the time I got hired to complete the necessary classes,” said Molten.
Molten said she traveled often during those three years. She attended conferences in Atlanta, North Carolina and Mississippi. She said it was a struggle, but she endured the expense, the time, the work and the sacrifices that came along with pursuing this path. Her role at the Vo-Tech is more than just teaching kids to cook. Educating her students about food safety and teaching them about safety in the kitchen is a big part of preparing them for opportunities in the food industry. There are workshops to learn new techniques and food safety certifications, but the reward is worth the effort, she said. Molten received her Associate’s degree in 2013 and earned her Bachelor’s degree in 2015, both from the University of Phoenix.
“Dr. Wallace took a chance on me,” said Molten. “He said I was his golden prize and I wasn’t going anywhere.”
She now works closely with Vo-Tech Center Director Lesha Lott. They have worked together to continue to improve the culinary program. Molten said Lott helps encourage student participation in competition and works with students wanting to venture into a culinary career.
Molten remembers being a student in the Foods program at the Vo-Tech when she was in high school. She said Mrs. Ethel Powe was her instructor, and they had a good time cooking and baking for fellow students and teachers as well as for many in the community.
“But, we didn’t have all the classroom work they have to do now,” said Molten.
She and her students have catered various receptions throughout the school year and participated in a Farm-to-Table program held previously at Eubanks Farm. The program had students preparing meals with fresh-from-the-farm ingredients which they served to attendees. Molten also prepares her students for state competitions where they compete for top spots among the state’s high school culinary students. They have to demonstrate their skills in many areas, including cake decorating, bread braiding and baking events.
Through all the hard work and dedication Molten put into her cooking career, she puts just as much into her own family. Molten raised three children on her own and has suffered through the grief of loss after losing someone close to her. She has watched her kids grow into hard-working adults and beams with pride with the mention of them. She has passed the love and skills of cooking to her own children, continuing a rich family history and tradition of culinary artistry.
She is known for her ‘Shasta cakes’ and bakes for many birthdays and special occasions. Her daughters help in the Snack Shack during the summers and also help with catering when needed. Molten’s son, Cortez Hinton, has been featured on WLOX’s ‘In the Kitchen’ cooking segment and is a chef at El Agave Mexican Restaurant in Gulfport.
Family traditions are grown out of love and continuity. This family’s cooking traditions are deeply rooted in Greene County and have continued to spread outward. Shasta Molten shares her passion for cooking with those around her, bringing a little joy with every slice of cake.