If I had to pick one word to summarize my favorite thing about volunteering with Brainfood this year, it would be this: discovery.
When I was the age that the Brainfood students are now, like all teenagers, I liked to eat, but I only ate food I knew—my mom’s casseroles and pasta dishes, homemade chocolate chip cookies, North Carolina staples like biscuits and barbeque. The food I enjoyed was delicious, familiar, and comforting, but it was definitely not adventurous or diverse in ingredients or flavors. It was not until I moved to DC, a city so abundant with cuisines from around the globe, that I began to experiment with foods and expand my palate. Moving here was a revelation to me. I am always jealous of those I meet who are lucky enough to have grown up in this food-town, although most teenagers I have worked with in DC (and I have worked with many) choose to stick, predictably, to teenager-staples such as cheeseburgers and pizza, not even tempted to dabble in the wide array of foods that are available to them.
When I began volunteering at Brainfood, I was heartened by the emphasis that was placed from the start on trying new ingredients and experimenting with different methods and cuisines. And, I was equally impressed by the open-minded attitude of the Brainfood student-chefs. At the beginning of the year, new ingredients and dishes (avocado, ginger, basil, bulgur) were met with wary but intrigued expressions. There was usually some good-natured murmuring about how strange something looked or smelled. But even in the early stages, the students were brave and willing to try anything. One particular Thursday, I watched with enjoyment as one student tentatively tasted the pesto she had just created for the first time. With the first bite, a look of pleasure and surprise spread across her face. As the classes rolled on, the curiosity only increased as the timidity slipped away. New items were sniffed, felt, and tasted with enthusiasm and wonder. The students’ preconceived notions of what they “do and don’t like” were all but forgotten.