As a mother of five and a part-time worker at Marion County High School, Tongate has done her share of cooking, but she does less now with only two of her children still at home. The children who live with her prefer eating Hot Pockets or Pizza Rolls, she says.
"I can fix a pork chop and vegetables and they won't eat it," she says. "I don't cook for them because they don't eat it."
Tongate says she does have some dishes that her children request. They like her Cabbage Rolls and Chicken Piccata. For the chicken dish, she browns the chicken, salts and peppers it, adds mushrooms, garlic, chicken broth and white wine. When it is finished, she adds parsley.
Right now, she cooks for her 17-year-old son, Eric, who is a junior at Marion County High School, and a 19-year-old daughter, Amy.
"She wants to learn to cook while she's there."
Tongate's 18-year-old, Jennifer, attends Eastern Kentucky University. Her oldest children are Laura, 34, who lives in Dayton, Ohio, and Larry, 32, who lives in Louisville.
Tongate, who drives 40 miles one way to the college, says she decided to go back to school after getting divorced.
"I was married for 24 years and I had never worked," she says.
Wants to work in hospital lab
When she graduates in a year, Tongate wants to work in a hospital lab.
"We got to tour Ephraim McDowell and with all the fancy machines, it really is state of the art. I thought, 'I would be interested in doing something like that.'"
When not studying, Tongate says her hobby is refinishing furniture, especially antiques. Sometimes finding the antiques is a challenge.
"Auctions are probably the best place or if somebody doesn't know what they have and they have painted over it," she says. "I've been in a lot of old, deserted barns, too."
Tongate hasn't minded scaling back on her cooking because she has devoted herself to exercising each day. Between classes, she usually works in a couple of miles at Millennium Park. The result has been losing 30 pounds since August.
"I'm going to keep going. I feel bad if I don't walk it."
Even though Tongate's children don't request her dishes that much, her fellow students and the staff at the college didn't feel that way.
Anita Denson, director of medical programs at the college on Lexington Avenue and one of the judges for the cook-off, says she liked Tongate's chili because it didn't have too much fire.
"It had the right amount of spices. It tasted like chili should taste with the slightest bit of green peppers in it."
The winning recipe
2 1/2 to 3 pounds lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup green pepper, chopped
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 can Brooks Chili Mix
6-ounce can tomato sauce
8-ounce can tomato paste
1 package McCormick Spicy Chili Mix
14 1/2-ounce can DelMonte Zesty Chili Style diced tomatoes
2 cups water
In large skillet add ground beef, onion, green pepper, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until beef is no longer pink. Drain off grease.
In a large pot or crock pot, add the ground beef mixture and the remaining ingredients. Stir all together and bring to boil. When it starts to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer no less than 30 minutes. Stir frequently.