Learning and Growing in the Brainfood Kitchen
Joys, Challenges, and New Knowledge for our Cooks in Training[Note: This blog was originally published in early March, 2017]
The closing of February marked five months of Brainfood programming for the 2016-2017 year, with only three months left! As a Brainfood instructor, I’ve found this month to be a bit of a whirlwind and have appreciated moments where I can pause and reflect upon my students’ journey this year. We find ourselves at a tipping point in first-year programming, where participants’ growth and accomplishments are really starting to shine, and we can utilize the broad set of skills and knowledge they’ve now acquired in classes.
It is with much pride that I am able to say my students now know: substitutions for healthier baking; what MyPlate is and how to eat a balanced meal; how to mince, dice, chiffonade, and julienne; what makes a grain “whole”; how to make some delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes; how to make soup from scratch; the purpose of roux; how to safely work with raw meat; many herbs and spices and how to use them; the five “mother sauces” and how to make (and fix!) hollandaise; the benefits and disadvantages of caffeine; how to whip up a vinaigrette dressing; knowledge about food systems, methods of agriculture, food deserts, and food waste. Whew!
Cooking results, in general, are very reflective of how much or how little you put into the process. As our teen participants are learning, this often requires close attention to detail–not to mention many challenging moments of needed improvisation, troubleshooting, and creativity.
Though our teen chefs can happily boast that very few recipes have been complete failures or inedible, we haven’t been without minor mishaps or interesting outcomes. In fact, we’ve found these moments to be some of the best points of learning and fun, and what better place to practice trial and error than in the Brainfood kitchen? Participants in our Chinatown kitchen now know how quickly garlic cooks (and burns), but we are still a bit confused about why our very memorable teriyaki sauce hardened into a tar-like substance. We’ve found that granola bars take a long time to cool and set, but a pile of warm-ish granola is actually quite delicious as well. Some discovered what can happen when granulated sugar is accidently used in place of confectioners’, and though it might not have been the frosting we hoped for, the result worked well as a creamy sweetener for homemade Mexican hot chocolate.
In addition to all of the food and cooking knowledge Cooks in Training participants have gained, I think my deeper roots of pride have taken hold in the soil of their growth as leaders, problem-solvers, communicators, teachers, and resourceful, responsible young people. I’ve seen their leadership and confidence soar in the new year, whether it’s in using chef knives or independently instructing new students on the ins and outs of Brainfood. I’ve heard some teens express concern over working with their team, yet effectively figure out a way to work together and create some wonderful recipes, despite initial doubts. It has been extremely rewarding for me to witness a multitude of new friendships form in my kitchen, and, while that can often lead to more conversation and energy in the classroom, I’ve witnessed many students work hard to perfect the art of focus, diligence, and time management. Participants continue to improve and expedite their clean-up process and find ways to adjust and fix recipes on the fly.
In my own work on Brainfood’s staff, I’ve continued to grow and learn more and more each day. I’ve been humbled by my incredible students and continue to be fulfilled by the unpredictable excitement and energy that one inevitably finds in a Brainfood kitchen. I’ve been able to broaden my skills as a teacher, cook, and youth worker and find endless support from our wonderful staff and volunteers. I’m looking forward to the remaining months of programming, which will include an international food unit, guest chefs, and, of course, Brainfood graduation! Stay tuned, friends of Brainfood, as exciting things are to come as we spring forward!