Bite of Brainfood Blog

Fishes and More Fishes

From Guest Blogger Stephanie Blyskal, longtime Brainfood volunteer...

What the fish?!?!

We were lucky to have a guest chef for the day: Teddy Folkman, chef at Granville Moore’s on H Street, NE, long-time Brainfood volunteer, Food Network bon vivant and all-around great guy. With Teddy’s enthusiasm, how bad could the 33-pound halibut be? The students had no idea that they were about to confront a giant fish. The reactions ranged from “ew” to “wow”. Chef Teddy explained the different parts of the fish, why it looked the way it did (two eyes on one side of its head) and how to break it down. Two brave souls from class helped out in skinning the halibut.

Brainfood kitchen=completely ordinary & absolutely extraordinary

From Guest Blogger William McKeithen, Brainfood Fall Intern...

I originally came to Brainfood as an intern because I believed in the mission of Brainfood to spread culinary knowledge as a vital skill set for any young teen growing up to be independent. I admit that I imagined some sort of conservatory where everyone showed up in white coats everyday. When I came to the first day of Brainfood, what I realized is that the Brainfood kitchen is for these teens both completely ordinary and absolutely extraordinary. When they come in, they don’t change who they are; their demeanor stay pretty much the same (though sometimes I think the strangeness of the industrial kitchen we work in can have a quieting effect); and they aren’t putting any special hat on that they might feel they need to when sitting in a boxy desk. Yet at the same time, I know from seeing them cook that Brainfood is a unique experience for them and not anything like what they normally get to do.

The other thing that surprised me was the first time we introduced ourselves and what we expected from ourselves throughout the process. There is such a dynamic mix of students who really want to learn to cook, who even think about being a chef, to students who just wanted something to do and have grown into a love of the kitchen and its special formulas and quirks.

How much I have learned since September!

From Guest Blogger Meg Wexler, Brainfood Fall Intern...

It is officially the holiday season, and all of us at Brainfood are busy with preparations for our big Holiday Celebration. Participants are getting ready to show their friends and families how much they have learned, and I think I’m just beginning to realize how much I have learned since September.

As soon as I heard about Brainfood this August, I knew I wanted to be a part of the organization. There was only one small problem – I wasn’t particularly experienced in the kitchen. Still, with a background in youth enrichment and a passion for all things edible, I came to class excited to meet the participants and hone my own skills. In many ways, I think being able to learn knife skills and other techniques alongside the students made it easier for us to connect. I have sought culinary advice from volunteers and students alike!

Learning these skills was surprisingly easy, and I think the students will agree. I have my own hypothesis for why this might be. Brainfood classes are full of mutual respect that comes from every participant’s eagerness to learn. When the students were asked to reflect on their time at Brainfood so far, many of them marveled at how necessary and effective teamwork could be. At Brainfood, no man is left behind – not even the intern who can barely tell when cookies are ready to come out of the oven!

Treats and Tricks at the White House

This past Saturday, "trick or treat" was more than the excited greeting of the costumed and the candy-hungry.  It was also the theme of Brainfood's most recent return to the White House kitchen.  For the three Brainfood grads who braved the misty fall weather to make the early morning trip to 1600 Pennslyvania Avenue, the tricks started almost on arrival.

Instead of entering the southeast gate for our 10 AM appointment, we had to clear the area and wait on the sidewalk while the Secret Service secured the area for the departure of the presidential motorcade.  It was a rare opportunity for us to admire the efficiency and daily diligency of the Secret Service who guarded the presidential departure on foot, bike, and in cars.  But the treat of getting to watch the presidential motorcade pull out forced us to pick up the pace to get through security.

Abracadabra, afterschool!

The best days at Brainfood always involve a little magic.  We’ve just finished the first three weeks of the after school program, and I can proudly assert that magic, yes, magic, is still a powerful, real force in our kitchen.  For all the cynics and arched brow types who may not believe me, who doubt the ability of kitchen magic to hold any sway in the ranks of our plugged in, city-savvy class of millennial teens, I present the following for your consideration...

A Last Look at Summer

The last two weeks have been strictly catch-us-if-you-can at Brainfood.  Classes were finalized on September 16th, the after school program kicked off on September 21st, and we're rolling into a second week of baking already!  We'll have more delicious dispatches from our newly busy Columbia Heights and Chinatown kitchens, but for now, here's along overdue last look at our awesome summer institute courtesy of our summer staff...                                                         

Week 5: Compost and a Competition


Brainfood Olympics 2009

This past Tuesday was another Challenge Day at Brainfood, and it was my turn to plan the challenge this time. I decided to plan a “Brainfood Olympics 2009” challenge, in which students competed on teams for a variety of competitions. Events included some athletic competitions, with games like a Cooking Vocabulary Relay Race, “Can Jam” (a Frisbee-Golf variant) and “Steal the Bacon Basketball.” Other events included a Brainfood-centered Taboo game and a Kitchen Skills competition, in which participants could show off how well they’ve learned to dice, mince, chiffonade, and battonet. I think my favorite activity of the day was the Cooking Vocabulary Relay Race, in which students had to match vocabulary words—like “sauté” or “poach” to their definitions and then complete specified actions—like “crabwalk” or “hop on one foot”—in order to earn points for their team. 

At the end of the day, points were totaled, and all the teams had done so well that we had a tie for first place and two other teams very close behind them. The tie was broken with a final competition in which the dueling teams had one minute to list as many foods as possible in the correct food groups. Scores were still close, but the red team emerged victorious. Prizes were awarded, and we all sat down to eat lunch – Ratatouille, Grilled Cheese and Tomato Sandwiches, and Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Fries. 

I was impressed with each team’s efforts to play their hardest in each event. All of the games were structured around teamwork and group communication, and each team proved that they were capable of working well with each other, even under the stress of a timed competition, an unfamiliar task, or a difficult challenge. 

My Day at the White House

Earlier in the summer Brainfood participants had the opportunity to visit the White House, learn from the White House chefs, and help prepare food for the Congressional Luau, Staff Picnic, and the 4th of July picnic.  

Here is what some of them had to say about their visit: 

 “I had a wonderful experience at the White House as a Brainfood student. I felt honored to participate in the Congressional Luau by working in the pastry kitchen. The staff was very kind and I learned a lot from them in the few hours we visited. Many of the chefs asked us about our goals and gave us advice on how to achieve them. Some of my favorite memories of the day were picking mint leaves in the herb garden, placing gold leaf on chocolate pastries, and taking pictures with Bo, the Obama family’s dog. Thank you Brainfood for inviting me to the White House, it was a day that I will never forget!”

 - Joy, 15, School without Walls High School


"My time at the White House was one of the best moments of my life. I got to see a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ things that I didn’t know were in the White House. It was a great experience and it really had an influence on how I view cooking. It sparked an even greater interest in a cooking career for me. The chefs seem to really have a passion for their job and I loved hearing the numerous stories of how they got interested in cooking. It inspired me to work hard to do what I need to do to be successful in life. My experience there taught me teamwork, responsibility, and having a plan for your future.”

 - Courtney, 16, Elizabeth Seton High School (MD)



"Cooking at the White House was a treat for me. I enjoyed my visit because we met many people that make things possible at the White House, especially the many chefs that put together everything. Head chef Cris was so kind that I felt that I was at her house instead of the President’s home as she showed me the kitchen and the rooms in the house. I had many trips to the White House before but this one was unforgettable!!”

 - Brenda, 16, Banneker High School




"My experience at the White House was wonderful and also inspirational. Meeting all of the successful people at the White House made me more dedicated in accomplishing what I want to be in life when I am older.  I had such a good time learning so many new things and I had so much fun just spending my day helping the White House chefs get ready for big picnics and other gatherings. I hope to come back again and I am thankful that Brainfood was invited to help out. Thank You!" 

- Asha F., 16, Banneker High School

Thank you White House!

Earlier in the summer, Brainfood participants and staff were invited to the White House to learn from the White House chefs and help prepare food for the Congressional Luau, Staff Picnic, and the 4th of July picnic. We wanted to take this opportunity to publicly thank the chefs for welcoming us with open arms and giving our students an experience they will never forget...

Dear White House Chefs,

Thank you so much for welcoming Brainfood students into your kitchen this summer. Being able to work alongside professional White House chefs to help prepare food for the special events was truly an amazing experience for our students, and one that they will certainly remember for the rest of their lives. 

We want to thank the entire kitchen staff for graciously taking the time to openly speak with students about their careers and share valuable advice. Not only did our students get the privilege of being able to cook at the White House, they also left with career advice from Frankie, a lesson in expediting from Chef Cristeta, a motivational speech from Melissa, and a gardening primer from Chef Sam.  

We want to thank the pastry shop staff led by Chef Bill and Chef Susie. The energy and efficiency with which you run the pastry shop was inspiring for all of our students who are seeking careers in the culinary industry, but it was the warmth, patience, and sincerity of everyone we worked with in the pastry shop that truly made this experience invaluable.  

As a youth development organization, we strive to provide a safe environment where students feel comfortable, valued, and empowered; during our 5 visits to the kitchen, everyone we worked with went above and beyond to really recreate that same environment in a new kitchen.

Also, being able to observe the community ethos and work ethic at the White House kitchen was  lesson to our students that teamwork is more than a catch phrase, it's an expression of personal integrity and professionalism at the highest level.  The importance of high expectations and creating a culture of teamwork and community speaks to the core of our values as youth workers, and it was truly inspiring to meet so many people who embodied these qualities at the White House.  You have all been role models to our Brainfood students, and their growth and successes are a reflection of your influence as well.

Again, it was an honor to have worked with all of you.

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