At the center of Spoon University is, of course, food. We’re always looking for new ways to bring you fun and easy-to-make recipes at Spoon, which is why an introduction to Stefanie Trepper, Spoon’s new recipe developer, is needed. Trepper is a culinary student at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, where she focuses on developing nutritious, budget-friendly, and adaptable recipes to accommodate various diets and food allergies. You may have already seen some of her fast food chain copycat recipes such as Cava’s Greek Salad, DQ’s Cherry Dip Cones, and Starbucks’ Bacon and Gruyère Egg Bites.

Trepper has an extensive educational background with a B.A. in Art History from Colby College, a Master's Degree from The Bank Street College of Education, and an advanced leadership certificate from Harvard University. She also studied in Provence, France, where she learned about sustainable farming and cooking practices.

We chatted with Stefanie Trepper about her journey as a culinary student and her recipe development process. Keep an eye out for more fast food copycat recipes and delicious dishes from her to come.

Spoon University: What made you want to go to culinary school?

Stefanie Trepper: I have always loved to cook, and my favorite way to express myself is through food. It’s my way of saying, “welcome,” “I love you,” or “let me take care of you.” I cook a lot with my children as well as my friends. I was a teacher for 25 years before deciding to become a chef. Cooking with my students over the years was a thrill for me. It was incredible how they took ownership of the dishes they were creating, and they would want to try unfamiliar foods, at least if they played a part in working with them. I also think one way to bridge different cultures is through food. Cooking has always been a way for me to revisit places I have traveled to as well as learn about people through the foods they make in their cultures. I have enjoyed being a recreational cook for 30 years, but I wanted to refine my skills and start cooking professionally in order to reach larger communities of people.

SU: What about the recipe development process do you love? Can you walk us through your process, start to finish?

ST: I love the experimentation of developing recipes. It’s fun to isolate flavor combinations and try to replicate them. I also enjoy using my culinary background to implement techniques such as making sauces or dressings. The way I like to begin is by tasting the product I am going to develop a recipe for. I take notes about the ingredients that stand out most and edit them in my notebook to create a recipe with ingredients that are easy to find or less expensive than the original. Next, I look up the recipe, if possible, to view the complete ingredient list of the dish as well as photos of how it’s plated. Next is my favorite part: shopping for ingredients and testing out recipe combinations until I feel I have replicated the recipe to the best of my ability. Once I feel I have done so, I make it one last time, photographing each step along the way.

SU: Favorite types of recipes to develop?

ST: I love versatile recipes. This is pretty broad, I know. Even nachos can be transformed into something else. However, sometimes, people need help figuring out what to do with leftovers. They are an opportunity to get creative and really stretch their dollars! For example, if a recipe requires a dressing, use it as a marinade the next day. If a recipe yields a large amount of food, repurpose it. For example, a biscuit recipe may make a dozen biscuits, which, after you enjoy them, can be used as a future stuffing or for a dessert with berries and cream.

SU: What do you hope to do with your culinary degree?

ST: I believe that access to nutritious, seasonal foods is a right, not a privilege. I want to help communities that suffer from food insecurity gain access to healthy foods. I want to help educate people on how to access these foods economically and how to use seasonal foods to create dishes that reflect people’s different cultures, diets, and lifestyle needs.

SU: Do you have any favorite fast food menu items to recreate at home?

ST: One of my favorite fast food items to make is the classic Smashburger from Shake Shack. It’s the best! I put the Shack sauce on everything-fries, chicken, veggies, you name it. I also occasionally enjoy an Egg McMuffin, which was one of the first dishes I replicated.

SU: Favorite spot to eat out near you?

ST: That’s a tough question because it depends on what I’m craving at the moment. I’m lucky to live in a very diverse city that has thousands of restaurants showcasing almost any cuisine. Sushi is always my go-to, and I love a good burger and delicious desserts. Fried oysters are my favorite foods so if I see that on the menu, I’m going to be a repeat customer for sure.