Bite of Brainfood Blog

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.

Challenge Day

This past Friday was my turn to plan Brainfood’s weekly challenge. Every Friday Brainfood’s students are presented with a task or activity that will stretch them out of their comfort zone. This week, I chose to challenge the students to view the world of food as if they had a food allergy, primarily focusing on gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance. I hoped that learning about different ways people eat would be interesting for them, especially since three participants this summer are have lactose intolerance. Even so, I must admit my challenge’s topic left me a little bit worried. What if the student would not like learning information about the allergies? And what if they liked eating the allergen-free food even less?

Once the challenged started though, I was pleasantly surprised by the group’s enthusiasm. During my brief info session about gluten and lactose intolerance, the students were very attentive, asking lots of questions about the allergies. They especially got into the info session about lactose intolerance, asking for some personal perspective from the lactose intolerant participants. 

Hello summer!

It’s hard to believe that we are already in our third week of the Brainfood Summer Institute. We've been going nonstop at Brainfood since May with the completion of the After School program, our Chefs' Challenge and Graduation celebration, the 3rd annual Grill-Off fundraiser, hiring and training our summer interns, multiple trips to the White House, Summer Institute orientation, and the official start of our summer program. It has been very exciting and mildly exhausting, but that's life at Brainfood! 
 
This summer we have another awesome group of about 20 high school students who in the past 2 weeks (now almost 3 weeks) have been cooking up a storm. They have learned the basics of kitchen safety, how to measure the Brainfood way, knife skills and how to make healthy alternatives. Each day we've made a delicious lunch that includes a protein, grain, fruit and vegetable. 

Making Friends over Food

After a long break from Brainfood while in Chile exploring hundreds of varieties of potatoes and calling avocados “palta,” I returned to volunteer this past fall.  Having interned during summer program, I considered myself a seasoned Brainfood-er.  I quickly became accustomed to the new cooking space at St. Stephen’s in Columbia Heights and was ready to go.

At first I missed former students.  I remembered their favorite foods and sense of humor.  It wasn’t long, though, before I was talking to Joy about band, Alia about science, Sterling about Barack Obama, and Mayra about AU.  Everyone in the Thursday Columbia Heights class had amazing interests and though I had class before and after Brainfood, I didn’t mind the extra bicycle ride to see everyone and catch up.

I always felt a lot of love in Columbia Heights on Thursdays.  Everyone’s dietary needs were respected – no one made a comment when I wasn’t eating meat or when someone couldn’t have dairy.  More importantly, whenever someone came into the kitchen it was “Hi!  How are you?” and when it came time to do dishes everyone was singing and pitching in.  Even though we were sometimes rushed for time, everyone worked hard to help get the kitchen clean and organized.

What I love most about Brainfood

What I love most about Brainfood is the enthusiasm from all the students, classroom assistants and coordinators.  Everyone has such a passion for the program and it definitely shows.  This was something I noticed on day one, and every day thereafter.  Coming into Brainfood was something I looked forward to every week because I knew that no matter what we were making that day in class, everyone was going to have fun.

What originally drew me to the program was the fact that they were teaching their students valuable life skills through cooking and food.  This appealed to me coming from a background in nutrition.  One of the most important skill sets, at least in my opinion, is the ability to cook for yourself.  In our fast paced, fast food, on-the-go lifestyles, we have come to the conclusion that we either don’t have the time or ability to cook a decent meal for ourselves.  These are valuable skills that the students will be able to use everyday.  When you teach someone how to cook, you are allowing them to control what foods they are eating and how they are preparing them.  This conscious awareness of food helps promote a healthy lifestyle that they can carry on long after the program.

Graduation = Success

It’s been a busy year here at Brainfood! On Wednesday May 20th Brainfood celebrated another amazing group of Brainfood graduates and participants. Brainfood graduation is a celebration of our participant’s accomplishments and a time for them to show off the skills they’ve learned to friends and family. Brainfood hosts a cooking competition for participants (similar to Iron Chef where teams of Brainfood participants prepare food and are judged based on creativity, taste, teamwork and presentation) and an Open Kitchen Night (participants choose their favorite dishes to prepare and serve to guests).

This year’s graduation was bigger and better than ever! Check out our Brainfood Class of 2009!

We have lots more pictures and stories to share with you. We promise to post a graduation recap soon. Until then we are going to get out of the kitchen (and the office) and enjoy the long weekend!

What's it's really like to volunteer at Brainfood

I was thrilled when I discovered Brainfood on VolunteerMatch.org.  I had recently moved to DC and was working from home full-time writing my dissertation and looking to get out of the house and get to know my community.  I’m a serious foodie and pretty accomplished home cook, so a youth development program built around cooking seemed perfect.  I envisioned myself skillfully demonstrating dicing an onion or explaining why it was so important to let a roux cook until nice and brown.  Well, there was one problem with that vision, I started at Brainfood in late November, and on my first day I realized, “These kids have already learned how to cook.”  I expected more hand holding would be needed, maybe even a full recipe demonstration, but not for these students.  After our friendly class opening and a very brief introduction to the day’s meal, they split off into groups, started gathering ingredients and tools, and got right to work.  As they started measuring ingredients into small glass prep bowls, I felt like I was watching a cooking show on TV.  So, what was I supposed to do with these capable young cooks that had already, in the first months of the program, learned to work through a recipe and acquired the knife skills to tackle any dish. 

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