Cooking Students Who Pan for Gold

There's more to cooking than simply preparing the food. Sometimes it's all about preparing for life. Jim Axelrod shows us a master chef . . . and teacher . . . at work:


Frankford High School in Philadelphia is no different than any other inner city high school . . .

But here, the toughest dude in the halls is a 64-year-old teacher . . . who also sells cookies in-between classes.

Meet Wilma Stephenson: culinary arts teacher.

"I expect them to respect themselves and me in return, okay? When they come into my class, they have to be on time, they have to have the school uniform, no gum, no book bag, no hoodie, no big earrings," she said.

While the iron fist always seems ready to cuff her students . . . the velvet glove is never too far away.

"Somebody has to tell them that they are number one, and that's what I tell them all the time. 'You are number one.'"

She seems like she could scare a Parris Island drill sergeant . . . and she is also sweet and loving. "Which is it?" Axelrod asks.

"Well, I guess I'm both. I guess I'm both," she said. "And I set my expectations very high, and I tell everybody you do not have the right to fail my class. You do not have the right - you have to come up to my expectations."

As seen in the documentary "Pressure Cooker," her top expectation is for her kids to learn to cook well enough to win big scholarship bucks at the city-wide cooking competition.

"When we walk into a competition, I know they're walking out with a lot of money," Stephenson said.

And we're not talking about nickels and dimes. We're talking a lot of money. A classroom chart of last year's winners is designed to inspire this year's students.

One got $93,000, another $81,000, another got $81,000. One ended up with $139,500.

"Wait, in other words, your kids last year ended up winning $637,000 in scholarships?"

"Yes, and that's usually what they do."

"That is a lot of money!"

"Yeah, thank goodness, 'cause they don't have any!" Stephenson laughed.

Two years ago, Fatoumata Dembele won $62,000. She's now at Monroe College just outside New York City, and cooking at an upscale Manhattan restaurant called Riingo.

"If I had not taken her class, I don't know what my life would be at this point because there wouldn't be no chance of me going to college," Dembele told Axelrod.

Yes, Wilma Stephenson is cooking up quite a story in inner city Philadelphia, sending dozens of kids to college who otherwise would have no way to go - by teaching them in her kitchen how to live their lives.

"She's just her own Miss Stephenson," said Dembele. "You cannot find her at every corner. And you cannot find her at every school. So that's something that I'm proud to be part of. She's a hero."

Such a powerful word - hero - which seems entirely lost on Wilma Stephenson.

. . . who may be yelling a bit too loudly to hear it.

"No, I don't, I never think about that. I really don't. I just don't. This is what I'm supposed to do. I am supposed to do this. I'm supposed to come here every morning at 5:30. I'm supposed to guide my students, and I'm supposed to teach them life. Not necessarily culinary arts - life."


Recipes From Wilma Stephenson, Culinary Arts Teacher, Frankford High School, Philadelphia:
French Omelet, and Tomato, Cucumber & Colored Bell Pepper Salad


For more info:
"Pressure Cooker" (Take Part)
Non Sequitur Productions
Careers through Culinary Arts Program
Riingo Restaurant
Monroe College
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
Check out the CBS News "Sunday Morning" Recipes Index for more tasty selections from our guests, contributors and Bon Appetit magazine!
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