From the Beginning
Eight years ago, Stena Kirk stands before her cutting board tossing chicken-toasted bread, sausage and onions into her famous casserole. At her hip, a much younger sophomore Trent Burnum focuses on the pinches of salt Kirk sprinkles onto her dish. Her bright, floral attire contrasts her short, dark hair, yet matches her flavorful food.
“Every time we go [to my grandmother’s house], we have a big meal, even if it is just for a couple hours,” Trent said. “She’s always doing something.”
Trent, now 16 years old, wants to see his name on the front of a restaurant. His own restaurant, that is.
When Trent was younger, he watched Kirk in the kitchen. His eyes followed her delicate hands sharply until he could mimic her motions without thinking. Through Kirk, Trent picked up skills like dicing tomatoes and preheating an oven at eight years old.
“Trent seems to find cooking relaxing and fun,” Trent’s mother Misty Burnum said. “He didn’t get that from me.”
But even with this acquired knowledge, there were still gaps. He didn’t know how to handle a paring knife or how to make a blackberry pie. What he did know came from watching Kirk in the kitchen.
After two years of watching, Trent’s hunger to cook himself led his mother to search for culinary programs he could get involved in.
“We found [the Culinary Center] because my mom was trying to find me more classes since I was into [cooking],” Trent said. “They have classes varying from really young to very advanced, and they bring in as many guest chefs as they can.”
And for a 10-year-old with a developing culinary identity, the non-competitive environment at the Culinary Center allowed him to strive. And, according to his father, Shawn Burnum, he did strive.
“He had a real desire to learn and try new things,” Shawn said. “And he had fun with it and was successful, which provided the positive reinforcement to continue.”
On the Grill
Diverting his attention from “Breaking Bad,” Trent looks at the clock. 4:00 a.m. His rotation is finally over. The responsibility he had to man the pork shoulder for the last seven hours was now his father’s. Inspecting the marination one last time, Trent trades places with his dad and retires to bed.
It’s a long process, smoking a shoulder.
“When I have the time — because I have to stay up all night with it — I like to smoke a big pork shoulder for 12-13 hours,” Trent said. “You have to dry rub it and inject it throughout the night. It’s a lot of work but it’s really rewarding, I think. Because in the end, it tastes so good.”
The taste isn’t the only thing the father-son duo get out of grilling, either. Trent gets more comfortable on the grill each time Shawn hands his son grilling tongs. So now, if the weather permits, he and his father light a burner and grill dinner for their family whenever they can.
“He and I really like preparing our own spices, sauces and learning how to smoke different types of meats,” Shawn said. “[We] have really learned a lot together and have had fun sharing these experiences.”
Not only had Trent learned to cook, but he’d developed a signature, too. His friends and family know his dishes as Trent’s ribs, Trent’s burgers and Trent’s steak.
“I never do anything by the book,” Trent said. “I always use bold flavors, always add a little bit of spice to it. I just like to take something and change it.”
With a name for himself, Trent asked himself what else he could claim. An apron? A kitchen? A restaurant?
Plans for the Future
Trent’s dreams are bright, to say the least.
Dreams to major in restaurant management. Dreams to own, manage and cook at his own joint. Heck–maybe he’d call it “Burnum’s Burgers”. But before he can do that, he’ll have to graduate high school and find a college with a strong culinary program.
“Kansas State University has a really good program for [restaurant management],” Trent said. “And the way I see it is that there’s always going to be restaurants even if everything else falls out.”
Currently employed at the local restaurant Urban Table, Trent is getting a taste of those dreams. But he isn’t cooking, managing or hosting.
“Trent–table 14 needs cleaning!”
That’s his cue. He clears the wine glasses and meat plates from the table to the dishwasher, then he goes back and lays out the silverware for the next family. First the napkin, then the fork, the plate, spoon, then kniv–no, first knife, then spoon. Right.
Trent is a busboy.
A busboy limited to clearing leftover salads and dirty forks off of tables, but, in his future, he sees himself cooking or managing in a similar environment as Urban Table.
“[The managers] let everyone put their own flare on what they’ve made,” Trent said. “If that’s what I could end up doing, that would be awesome because the managers get to have input and make food.”
After becoming the Burnum family’s personal chef, Misty and Shawn Burnum know that Trent can achieve just that.
“If he wants to continue down this path and continues to apply himself, I have no doubt he can be successful,” Shawn said. “As a parent, I just want to encourage him to do something he enjoys and is passionate about in life.” Shawn said.