Over the years, Larissa Ealy has served the Lebanon community as a firefighter and a chef.

Recently, the 19-year-old Lebanon County native embarked on a 16-day training trip through Italy.

Larissa Ealy poses in Italy. (Provided by Larissa Ealy)

“Italy was the best experience of my life,” Ealy said. “I was accompanied by Chef Mary Trometter. Sixteen other students and I got to tour regions of Italy including Venice, Rome, Nettuno, Asti, and Parma, while learning about Italian food and culture, and getting to take cooking classes with Italian chefs at culinary institutes.”

Between making pasta in Ferrara to baking bread in Asti, Ealy sampled pizza, seafood, aged cheeses and balsamic, and gelato.

In mid-May, Ealy graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Technology, where she earned her associate’s degree in baking and pastry arts.

Larissa Ealy in her Penn College graduation regalia. (Provided by Larissa Ealy)

Ealy named Chef Todd Keeley and Chef Charles Niedermyer II as two instructors she really admired.

“Chef Todd provided so much industry knowledge and knowledge about owning his own cake shop, and Chef Charles provided tons of knowledge about working for a hotel company as an executive pastry chef,” she said.

In addition to his interactions with Ealy in a teaching and advising capacity, Niedermyer, of State College, accompanied a group of Penn College students, including Ealy, to the Kentucky Derby at the beginning of May.

“I’m the chef instructor that takes the students down to Kentucky each year. So, I had the pleasure of taking Larissa down there, where we cook for tens of thousands of guests,” Niedermyer said.

“This year was my 13th Kentucky Derby,” he continued. “Penn College has had a long history of assisting with the premium food service. We provide culinary, baking, and service for the premium suite areas, so students have the chance to work on a really grand scale. We call these ‘mega-events.'”

Along with cooking and baking with hundreds of pounds of ingredients, students got to experience the fashion and history of the event.

Larissa Ealy with a final project for the baking and pastry program at Penn College. (Provided by Chef Charles Niedermyer)

In addition to Penn College, Ealy attended the Lebanon County Career and Technology Center. During her time there, she was mentored by Chef Brian Peffley and Chef Robert Corle Jr.

“My favorite moments in the kitchen were in Chef Peffley’s class. Most mornings, Chef would come in early with another student and I to make soft pretzels,” Ealy said. “He always went above and beyond to make sure we had all the knowledge he could offer us.”

Larissa Ealy with a variety of baked goods for Lebanon County Career and Technology Center. (Provided by Larissa Ealy)

Ealy worked as a bakery clerk for BG’s Value Market from the age of 14 until she left for college at 18. Since then, she has worked as a baking intern for Lancaster Cupcake and a deli associate for Weis Markets.

The inspiration behind her passion for the culinary arts, which later fueled her professional pursuit in the field, can be found in her family tree.

“I would say my favorite memory of my grandma and I [in the kitchen] would be when we were making cookies,” Ealy said. “She turned away, and I thought the cookies looked dry, so I turned on the sink and let it run into the cookie batter.”

Ealy continued, “[My grandma] was so patient with me and wasn’t mad. We laughed about it later.”

Larissa Ealy making pizza at Penn College. (Provided by Larissa Ealy)

When she isn’t in the kitchen, Ealy is a firefighter with the Bunker Hill Fire Company, where she’s volunteered since 2016.

Ealy’s family has played a significant role in her career, both as a chef and a third-generation firefighter.

“I would just like to say that I have the best support system there is,” Ealy said. “A huge thank you to my mom Patti Kreitzer, my sister Lyndsay Ealy, and my grandparents Richard and Patricia Kreitzer, for always having my back and pushing me to do my best throughout life and college.”

Larissa Ealy preparing a bowl of shrimp. (Provided by Larissa Ealy)

After graduation, Ealy said, “my plans for the future are just to follow my passion and work at a well-known resort or hotel company somewhere in the United States.”

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Lexi Gonzalez has worked as a reporter with LebTown since 2020. She is a Lancaster native and became acquainted with Lebanon while she earned her bachelor's degree at Lebanon Valley College.