Seattle City (spot)Light: John “Mark” McGee

For the past seven years, Mark McGee has dished out happy smiles and full stomachs as cook at the Gorge Inn at City Light’s Skagit project. A retired Navy Air Traffic Controller, Mark was in the service for 22 years. In fact, it was his assignment to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island that made him want to stay in Washington state.

Today, Mark resides in Newhalem with his wife where they’ve lived since 2007. Together, they enjoy life in the mountains which consists of outdoor adventures like backpacking and car camping. They also share a great love for—you guessed it—cooking.

  John “Mark” McGee at the Gorge Inn

“I like exploring the back country. This area (Skagit) is a perfect jumping off point for that. As soon as you leave the trailhead, you’re pretty much on your own. My wife and I go out together. It’s fantastic,” said Mark. “I’ve hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Highway 20 to Hart’s Pass which is just drop dead gorgeous. There’s a place up there called Snowy Lakes which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I still can’t believe it’s not a part of a national park. I also enjoy Panther Creek.”

“I’ve always cooked. My mom taught me. When I retired from the Navy, I enrolled at Skagit Valley College. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I interviewed with the head of the culinary department and decided to change my major to culinary arts. My very first course was baking, and I had never baked a lick in my life. Baking is a science—in cooking you use recipes, but in baking you use formulas. I just fell in love with it and got my degree in culinary arts in hospitality management.”

“One recipe I learned from my mom was Maryland fried chicken. I still make it a couple times a year. My wife and I have fun cooking together. She makes a good gumbo. I love to cook Italian food like prawns Puttanesca or a nice Arrabiata sauce. In a way, cooking is like air traffic control in that there’s instant gratification. On the other hand, there’s also instant knowledge of making a mistake or knowing that someone hates your food. So, there’s instant feedback, good or bad, which I like.”

“I’m a classically French-trained chef. I’ve worked in fine dining, and I think when retirement comes, that I’d like a part-time job in a fine dining restaurant. That would be fun—to just focus on the food. The Herb Farm in Woodinville is a fantastic fine dining experience. Loulay is also excellent.”

“Here, we’re famous for the Dam Good Chicken Dinner. People love it. The menu’s been updated with a nice green salad and fresh green beans, but the chicken recipe is exactly the same. The recipe has to be from the 1930s—coming up on 100 years!”

“We especially like to take care of the line crews. They work hard…10, 12, sometimes 14 hours a day. The last thing they want to think about is cooking. They always support us. When the crews come up, they’re first in line and first in our hearts. We get to know them very well. They’re great folks. We’re like a family up here.”

“I’d also like to acknowledge my co-workers; Debbie Martin, Cindy Aldridge and Tara Benjamin. Without their support and help the Gorge Inn could not function as effectively it does. The Skagit cookhouses now and in the past, are not and could never be a one person show. It’s all about team effort.”

Thank you, Mark, for your service to our country and for all that you do to feed our appetites!

Learn to cook for all occasions at Seattle Parks community centers

Community center guest cooking instructor Carrie Carrillo holds up a sugar pumpkin.

Whether you’re looking for a recipe for holiday entertaining, to impress a date, to make with the kids, or to warm you up this winter, Seattle Parks and Recreation guest cooking instructor Carrie Carrillo can help.

Carrillo grew up in Kansas City and lived in a variety of places around the world before settling in Seattle. She has a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology, an associate’s degree in culinary arts and a master’s degree in food history and culture.

Carrillo started working in restaurants when she was 15 in the front of the house and after culinary school she worked as a cook for four years. She soon became more interested in the intellectual side of food and went to New York University to focus on food history and culture.

Carrillo has been teaching cooking classes at community centers across Seattle for about a year. She teaches everything from bread making to pumpkin pies, pot roasts, holiday cookies and sushi.

“I try to change up the kind of classes I teach a lot,” Carrillo said. “There are staples such as Challah and pita, but then I try to tailor classes to the season and the community center.”

The students who take Carrillo’s classes are as diverse as the recipes. She said she’s taught students from a myriad of professions, backgrounds and countries. She said she’s always fascinated to learn why a person has chosen to take a particular class.

On Monday, Nov. 3, Carrillo was teaching people how to put a twist on the traditional pumpkin pie at Belltown Community Center. Carrillo admitted she was teaching the class because she didn’t like the festive dessert.

“I hate pumpkin pie, which is why I started dabbling to give it twists,” she said. “I needed to find a holiday dessert I would eat and my family wouldn’t shame me for.”

The students learned how to make a pie from scratch, how to substitute ingredients for people with gluten or dairy intolerances and how to change up the recipe by adding nuts, alcohol, spices, and different crusts.

“Can I use Stevia instead of sugar in my pie?” one student asked.

“If I use coconut oil instead of butter, will my dessert smell like coconut?” asked another.

Carrillo’s community center courses are a good place to practice new skills and to work with new ingredients.

“If someone wants a low-stress place to learn, my classes are a great place to start,” Carrillo said. “I love to help people discover that they can cook and that healthy and tasty meals are not only within reach, but are much easier to make than they thought.”

Carrillo has upcoming courses on fall soups, pot roasts, holiday cookies and more. She even teaches a series for cooking with your toddler. You can discover the right class for you in our fall activity brochures.