Pine Island boy learns how to cook from Johnny 'Mango' Mangouras at co-op kitchen
Brady Booth-Kowalczyk, 8, is learning to become a chef at Pine Island Cooperative Works from John "Johnny Mango" Mangouras.
PINE ISLAND — Brady Booth-Kowalczyk is just like any other second-grader at Pine Island Elementary School. His favorite subject outside of recess at school is science, and he enjoys watching and playing soccer and football
But Brady has one interest that sets him apart from his peers. The Pine Island 8-year-old takes cooking classes from John Mangouras at Pine Island Cooperative Works.
Brady’s mother Andria Booth-Kowalczyk found out about PI-co.works through Mangouras' business partner, Jacob Peterson, over a year ago. When Peterson mentioned to Andria that "Johnny Mango" was working alongside him at the kitchen space, she was sold on getting Brady involved in cooking classes from Mangouras.
“I was starstruck,” Andria said. I moved here in 2010 and knew of Johnny Mango, because he was doing private by invitation style dinners. I immediately ran over and shook his hand and asked, ‘Do you do private cooking lessons?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.’ I told him that my son, an 8-year-old who currently wants to be a chef, wants the lessons.”
The Booth-Kowalcyzk’s connected with Mangouras over the summer and have done three sessions of cooking together since December 2022. Brady has learned to make all types of dishes from scratch from sushi to gyro’s and Greek salsa, among many other things.
The dishes Brady makes alongside Mangouras at the co-op kitchen are always brought home to his parents and two younger siblings, Drew and Brynnleigh, to enjoy after spending a few hours cooking.
“I enjoy most that I get to cook with Johnny and learning new dishes. I really like when he lights the steaks on fire,” Brady said.
His favorite part of the whole process of cooking with Mangouras may surprise many; Brady loves cleaning the dishes once the cooking lesson is done.
“He and his younger brother loved doing the dishes the last time they were here,” Mangouras said. “I’ve never had kids more excited about cleaning than cooking, which is a sigh of relief for me.”
The setup of the industrial kitchen at Pine Island Cooperative Kitchen provides an easy learning experience for Brady. The organizational setup Mangouras has in place, with color coordination on what types of cutting boards are used for different types of food (meat, fish, produce, etc.), makes it easy for someone of Brady’s age to follow along the process.
Even though Brady may not find the taste of a gyro or Greek salsa quite appealing yet. The skills he is learning will last him a lifetime, and that was what his mother, Andria, enjoys the most in these classes with Mangouras.
“It's always fun, even if he doesn't fully eat the full meals when we get home," Andria said. "Going outside our comfort zone as parents and cooking things that we don't normally get to cook, but then also have him at least see it and taste it a bit now so he can enjoy it more as he grows older.”
Having already brought his younger brother Drew to a class, Brady is hopeful that he can bring a couple friends from school to one of his next sessions. And before the school year is over, he does have one wish of what he can do at school from what he has learned from Mangouras.
“I would really like to help the lunch lady at school sometime,” Brady said to Mangouras.
“He does a good job with me every time,” Mangouras said. “I mean he gets in here, he wants to get his hands dirty and cut up stuff. Brady’s very attentive for his age and always willing to learn.”
“One of the things that's so special working with John is that you’re not following a recipe. So you gotta hustle with what you’re actually cooking, it's coming so naturally to John, someone who doesn't cook from the same recipe each time he makes something,” Andria said.
As the Booth-Kowalcyzks follow along each session, writing down the recipes Mangouras gives them, their culinary library at home grows each month. And Brady’s future as a chef continues to progress after every lesson.