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Local chef cooks cooks meals with fresh ingredients on a budget

CINCINNATI (Deborah Dixon) -- Within the heavenly confines of St. Peter in Chains at 8th and Plum, you can sometimes smell the aroma of marinara sauce simmering in the cathedral kitchen.

Chef Giovanna Trimpe cooks on a budget, but it doesn't taste like it. Her claim to fame? The ability to cook an eight course meal for 13 people who won a recent charity auction for less than $10 a person.

Focaccia, empanadas, meatballs-- it's a taste of chef Giovanna's life growing up in Venezuela and Italy. That's where a church family revolves around homegrown food, but then she came to America.

"You couldn't find anything fresh; everything [was] canned," says Giovanna.

But Giovanna's mother didn't give in.

"My mother cooked the same way. We went to Findlay Market, canned all our tomatoes," she says.

Cooking with the cathedral chef is surprisingly simple.

In Giovanna's cookbook, "Holy Chow", difficulty is measured by the number of rosary beads next to a recipe. Father Jim's strawberry pie has more beads than the marinara sauce, but the basil pesto is easy. It only has one bead.

When it comes to basil, Giovanna grows a lot.

"When I pick my basil and crush it, that's a great feeling to know it is fresh. Makes such a big difference."

Fresh, healthy, simple and cheap. She freezes the marinara sauce for the dinner.

"To make that is $4," she says. "A box of pasta is a  dollar. Imagine feeding a family of four on $4 four times. It's pennies."

On Sunday, 13 guests ate and talked in the cathedral dining room. The dinner is an auction item bid at a Tender Mercies fundraiser.

"I prefer home-cooked. You can go to Jean Robert's if you want gourmet. I like home-cooked meals," says Giovanna.

The eight course meal, which included appetizers, for 13 guests and cooked Giovanna's style cost only $108.68.

Giovanna's recipes are in her "Holy Chow" cookbook, available at Joseph Beth Booksellers and at holychowcookbook.com.

Follow Deborah at @CrimestopperDeb on Twitter and LIKE her on Facebook!

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