Nina Bryce's blog

Brainfood All-Stars Food Desert Workshop: The Bad, The Worse, and the Ugly

Guest Blogger Myla Clark, Community MVPs Senior!

My name is Myla Clark and I am a current Brainfood MVP participant and in the past  have done Brainfood All-Stars and Brainfood Box Project. I am current senior at School Without Walls (the number one school in DC) and as a graduation requirement at my school is a year long Senior Project on a subject I got tot select. I chose to do although there are negative outcomes that come from food deserts, these environments benefit  some people of the farming, fast-food, medical and pharmaceutical industries. I had to conduct a interview with an expert on my topic, write a 15-page research paper, and create a product that connects with the paper. Thankfully, my mentor and Brainfood MVP coordinator, Aimee, was able to help me work with Brainfood to create a product!

Four Life Lessons the Buche de Noel Can Teach Us

Last week at Brainfood, we made a holiday favorite of mine: the Buche de Noel.  It’s an ambitious baking recipe, and our students did an amazing job with it. Even though I’ve made a Buche de Noel every Christmas since I was younger than our Brainfood participants, every year I make it, I seem to learn new things!  This year, four lessons have stuck with me.  

1. Traditions can evolve

The meaning of the name Buche de Noel is  “yule log”, and it actually originates from the Pagan  ritual  of burning a log to celebrate the winter solstice. This tradition was then adapted by Catholics into a Christmas custom which involved decorating the log before burning it. Eventually it morphed into a tradition involving a decorated log as a centerpiece surrounded by sweets, and then ultimately into a “log” made of cake (instead of an actual log), which is much more suitable for eating than for burning! This story serves as a reminder that traditions can change, and that everything has a mutlilayered history.

Disconnect to Connect (Finding Your #BestFriend at #Brainfood)

The following post is a second guest blog entry from Rexan Dayao, Brainfood's Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative fellow!

For today’s youth, establishing connections and engaging in meaningful friendships can be  somewhat of a struggle due to the presence of things like cell phones and tablets. Gone are the days when people just sit down and talk instead of posting everything that is happening to their social media platforms. Although it is a primary need of human beings to connect, many of us tend to forget how to focus on what truly matters. Instead of talking to people around us, we sneak onto social media platforms to get glimpses of someone else’s life.  Sometimes it is necessary to disconnect with your gadgets in order to connect with people who are actually around you.

At Brainfood, one instructor has a creative solution to this concundrum:  a cell phone soup pot. Participants are asked to drop their phones into a large stockpot (empty, of course) if they are caught using it during the cooking classes. That way, youth learn a sense of focus in accomplishing things in the kitchen without the distraction that phones can provide. Not only does this help them prioritize tasks in the kitchen, it also provides an environment more conducive to real connection. Because of this, they are happy with what they’ve done when the day ends.

Even when we disconnect from technology, forming new connections can be challenging! So how do you effectively connect with people you just met?
You need to break the ICE (Initiate, Connect & Engage)!
Imagine you are a Brainfood Kitchen all Stars participant. At the beginning of class, you will be  asked to first gather in a circle and share your desired Group Expectation for the day. The instructor then provides some information about the theme or topic for the day, facilitates a discussion, and gives an overview of the recipes. Then, you are handed a recipe: merely a piece of paper with list of ingredients and measurements, plus a guide to the process of how to prepare the dish. The interesting aspect of  this approach is that the instructor will not tell you what to do  every step of the way; you need to discover things on your own. Thus, you need to INITIATE. You need to ask other people questions, work together to get materials, and take on the recipe as a group. In less than five minutes, you’ll realize that you have taken  the first step to making a friend: to initiate. 
Asking about the cooking process or a certain materials will then lead you to asking personal questions in order to get to know more about your newfound friend. You’ll be curious to learn more about this friend’s personalities and hobbies. In another five minutes you may discover that both of you have the same interest or you  live in the same neighborhood. That conversation will give you a certain sense of connection.
While the muffins or cake are in the oven, or while some others are mixing the salad, both of you might be putting things away in the pantry or beginning to set up the plates. You get to engage in meaningful tasks, working together to achieve a shared goal that brought you closer in less than an hour. That’s the kind of connection that you don’t have every day, especially when you are too occupied maximizing the use of your gadgets.


Technology is really useful. But nothing can replace a meaningful conversation with friends. At Brainfood, you can learn that life is all about interaction, discoveries and finding yourself. It will give you the opportunity to break away from the monotony of life by exploring the wonders of the kitchen. When you initiate, connect and engage, you get to fulfill the human need to be self–actualized and be part of a working group. You might even find your best friend at Brainfood! You just need to disconnect in order to connect.


Finding One’s Spark in the Kitchen

This blog post is a guest post from our Rexan Dayao, a fellow with the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative who is working with us at Brainfood this month. Rexan shares his impressions from his first day at Brainfood Kitchen All Stars!

It has been a long day for youth who have spent hours studying at  their respective schools. Yet, instead of heading towards home or to do other things, they have opted to participate in Brainfood’s Kitchen All Stars. It is a year-long program (October - May) that introduces participants to life skills and leadership skills through food and cooking. Participants have the opportunity to learn about food, nutrition, cooking, and jobs in the food industry through activities, games, restaurant visits, cooking in our kitchen, and working with guest chefs.
On the first day of Brainfood Kitchen All Stars, participants started coming in around 3 pm. 

They signed in and handed in waivers and permission slips. Some eagerly asked Amanda, Brainfood staff member and instructor of Kitchen All Stars at Columbia Heights,  about what is on the menu for the day. Most were just quiet, probably trying to find opportunities to connect with individuals they just met. There were 18 youth, 2 volunteers and myself, an intern from Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).
Amanda started the session by asking participants to introduce themselves, followed by an icebreaker game which helped to release their inhibitions. Each one was also asked to create a Group Expectation. Then each participant picked one goal to focus on for the day, which intends to make sure that everyone will participate diligently. In addition to the list of Group Expectations created by the students, we also have the “Brainfood No-Brainer” which lists things that they should not do while in the kitchen in order to keep all students safe  
At 4:30 pm, Amanda handed them the recipes and the participants started measuring ingredients. At some points in the process, the youth were not sure what to do next, which ingredients needed to be measured, how much, and how many. They were confronted with lots of questions and they needed to make  decisions quickly so that the cookies would be in the oven by 5 pm.

5 Ways You Know It's the First Week of Kitchen All Stars

Last week, we kicked off another year of Kitchen All Stars at Brainfood.  Of course, every year is different: new students, new volunteers, new recipes, and lots more. But at the same time, there are some aspects of Brainfood that hearken back to years past and feel as familiar as a worn-in sweater or a favorite rerun. It's wonderful to see those tell-tale signs that Kitchen All Stars is starting up again, and that it looks more or less like they did last year. Because as exciting as it is to experience fresh starts and new beginnings ripe with possibility, it's just as special to see what stays the same. We put together a list of some snapshots from class last week that exemplify those classic Kitchen All Stars first week moments. 

 1. Students are reading their recipes very closely.

 As teachers, we love to see two teens tracking the steps of the recipe with their fingertips! This kind of careful attention is especially necessary early in the program. 

Pupusas 101

During the time between summer and school year programs, Brainfood staffers have lots to do: between writing reports, planning for after-school programs, organizing the kitchens and office, and more, our plates are pretty full. Yet in the midst of all this, we took some time last week to enjoy each other’s company and try our hands at a new kitchen skill: the art of making pupusas. The pupusa is a culinary endeavor that some of us had tried before, but had never really mastered. It comes up on the Brainfood Student Requests list almost every year, we've all heard about different fillings and styles, and we all have our favorite pupuseria in Columbia Heights or Mount Pleasant.  It’s definitely a fixture of our lives, so we wanted to experiment with some recipes and hone our technique. 
We were lucky to have a great teacher, Teresa, a chef who we share kitchen space with at our Mount Vernon site. She generously took the time to show us her technique and coach us through the process. Once we learned from the master, we gave it a try by ourselves, and we were pretty pleased with the results. For all you aspiring pupusa makers out there, here's a step-by-step overview of the process! 
Step 1: Make Your Fillings
We went with black beans (lovingly hand-mashed by Amanda!), shredded pork, and a sauteed summer squash veggie mixture. Of course, all three got a generous sprinkling of a delicious mild white cheese, labeled specifically as cheese for pupusas.

"Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind", Creativity, and Backup Plans

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki

As a youth worker, I am always learning from the amazing young people in our programs. One of the best things about working with teens is the fact that every class, every conversation, and every unique group of students has its own gems of wisdom to impart, whether I realize it at the time or not. And this summer, our students have been teaching me about Zen.  Maybe these high school students don’t consider themselves Zen masters, but as I’ve been reflecting on Summer Institute so far, one theme that these teens clearly have a lot to teach me about is the concept of “beginner’s mind.”

Red, White + Brew!

This week, Brainfood was thrilled to be the non-profit beneficiary for an event hosted by Charlie Palmer Steak DC called “American Fare: Red, White + Brew.” The event featured  four DC Brewers: 3 Stars Brewing Company, Atlas Brew Works, DC Brau Brewing Company, and Port City Brewing Company, showcasing creative craft beers paired with menu items from Chef Jeff Russell’s "Jeff-to-Table" menu, each dish featuring farm-to-table ingredients sourced from a garden just a few miles away from the restaurant.
The event was truly a celebration of “all things grown and made right here in Washington, DC,”  which is right up our alley! Many of the brewers, chefs, guests, and others involved with the event clearly have a penchant for local food, and we had lots of great conversations about urban gardening, empowering youth as agents of change in their local food communities, and culinary education as part of the movement to transform the food system. 


Kitchen All Stars Graduation!

Last Thursday, we celebrated the end of Kitchen All Stars with our annual Chef’s Challenge cooking competition and graduation. We welcomed not only all of our Kitchen All Stars students, but also family and friends, Weekly Classroom Assistants from every site and section of Kitchen All Stars, lots of special event volunteers from Corporate Executive Board, and three guest judges: Sonny Goyal (The Advisory Board Company), Jen Koide (Blackboard) and Jennifer McDivitt (Poste Moderne Brasserie). It’s always so special to welcome community partners to get a taste of our programs, see all of our fabulous Weekly Classroom Assistants in one place, and, of course, see the youth in our programs sharing Brainfood with family and friends. It was a very full, busy, and festive afternoon!

Connecting to our Roots...Through Dessert!

Last week , we teamed up with our fabulous, generous friends at Poste Moderne Brasserie  for a unique new fundraiser event: the Sugar Showdown. The event featured some of DC’s top pastry talent getting together for a friendly competition and guests enjoying an evening of sweets and bubbly on the patio, all to benefit Brainfood.  These amazing chefs whipped up imaginative, seasonal desserts for judges and guests to sample, and we all got to cast our votes for the winner. Guests enjoyed champagne and small savory bites by Poste chef Kyoo Eom, along with the phenomenal treats featured in the competition, and a wonderful time was had by all.

Of course, these chefs couldn’t make just anything! We all know a cooking competition is no fun without a limiting parameter or challenge of some kind.  The theme for the Sugar Showdown was both literal and conceptual in nature, and it’s a concept that I found extremely compelling: roots. The chefs interpreted this to mean culinary roots, family roots, community roots and actual roots -- as in, root vegetables. So what’s a dessert chef to do with the theme of roots? Well, these contestants had some pretty creative solutions:

Poste Moderne's Casto Unson, served a purple yam éclair with candied kumquat and rosemary oolong tuile, which he explained that his dish was inspired by his Filipino heritage and the flavors profiles of the cuisine he grew up with. Trummer's On Main's Deborah Brown served a carrot pecan cake with a citrus glaze and a cream cheese parfait (plus a salted beet chip as a garnish!) and her display table included an old heirloom cookbook, yellowed and frayed, opened to the page of the cake she featured.  Chef Caitlin Dysart of the restaurant 2941 served a ginger root budino on a carrot walnut cake with carrot confit, which was the crowd favorite, winning the “people’s choice” award of the evening. Meredith Tomason of Rare Sweets spoke about the Italian side of her family using pistachio in many desserts, which she featured as a garnish on her chilled rhubarb soup with vanilla bean and licorice root semifreddo, the dish that won the “judges choice” award in the competition.

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