Culinary Two-Step

Stephanie Oscilowski says she can remember her first time in the kitchen.

“I stand on a step stool, with one hand on the spatula and the other on the black cast-iron pan, making my scrambled egg breakfast,” she says. “My mom is right beside me, facilitating my first culinary experience. I’m 2 years old.”

Her mom, Susan, disagrees, and says Stephanie was 3.

Whatever. Stephanie’s cooking is the stuff of legends at the Oscilowski house in Lemoyne, especially when she brings home a new technique from culinary school.

But that doesn’t begin to cover her interests, her accomplishments or the lengthy to-do list in her young head.

She started full time at Harrisburg Area Community College while she was still being home-schooled as a high school senior, and won a Pennsylvania Restaurant Association scholarship. She’s in her second year of the culinary program, and she also works in the kitchen at Bricco, doing morning prep.

She teaches Irish dance three nights a week to 14 students. Besides choreographing shows, she creates and sews costumes. She partners with her older brother Chris in a video production company. They’ve taped, edited and produced DVDs for dance shows, theater productions, soccer highlights and weddings.

“I wish there was more time in the day,” Stephanie says.

She’s 18.

The other three girls and four boys of Susan and Francis Oscilowski are just as active. “They’re all overachievers,” their mom says. “My kids dance seven days a week, between ballet, jazz, tap, modern and Irish dance.”

It was that infamous Michael Flatley who started Stephanie on the road to Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne, which is Gaelic for the Irish Dance Championship of the World.

“When ‘Riverdance’ was first on PBS, we watched it,” Susan said. Stephanie was 12. “She bugged me about doing it for a long time. I told her as soon as she finished her math program, she could do it.

“She finished it by December, a whole year’s worth of math, because she was so motivated.”

Then it was shoes, instructional videos and finally classes at the McGinley School of Dance with Lena McGinley, of Ireland and Mechanicsburg.

In the three years she was competitive, Stephanie twice made it to the international competition in Ireland, and medaled in several aspects — once, as the only American.

Last January, she put together her own Irish dance troupe, Rebel Heart. She contacted nursing homes and senior centers, asking if they’d like the group to perform, and started rehearsals. She choreographed the dances, designed and made the costumes, and made ready to talk to the audience about the different facets of Irish dance, and Irish culture.

Rebel Heart was ready by St. Patrick’s Day, and did 25 shows.

Several of them were at the Appalachian Brewing Company’s pub in Hampden Twp., where she also landed a job in the kitchen.

Artie Tafoya, brewmaster and head of operations at ABC, had daughters who were dancing with Oscilowski.

“She told me, ‘I’m really interested in getting into the restaurant business on the culinary side,'” Tafoya said. “We always like people like that, people who really want to work, people we can work with.

“She started in the kitchen in Camp Hill. It’s not quite as big as Harrisburg. We had somebody there to teach her and train her, and get her moving in the right direction.”

Which always seems to be in the direction of more responsibility.

“I started out on pizzas,” Oscilowski said. “When I started to get a little better, they trained me on salads and appetizers. Then early this year, I started working morning prep. When the assistant kitchen manager left they sort of assumed I’d do what he did.

“So I came in early, did the prep list, made sure the people during the day did the prepping. I like being in charge of everything, but the stress got to me a little.”

Not so much that she missed the dean’s list at HACC.

Chef Tim Harris, who started Oscilowski in culinary fundamentals and technique last year at HACC, said the details are always important for her.

“She’s very good, she’s very conscientious,” he said. “She’s almost a perfectionist, and I think that slows her down a bit at first. Sometimes it’s frustrating for her.

“She’s good in class, she was well-liked by the other students. She never hesitates to help anybody.”

Tafoya has a good idea where that comes from.

“She comes from a really big family, and her parents are great people. That never hurts. I wish more people would have better parents.”


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