New Year’s Reflection

Happy New Year from our Cooks in Training:

A Look Back and Look Ahead

Despite the persistence of cold and yucky weather lately, the voices and laughter of students and delicious smells of the yummy dishes made by our teen chefs warm the Brainfood kitchens once again.

What do we look forward to this spring, and what highlights have shaped our year so far?

To look back and reflect on our fall Brainfood experiences, I thought, who better than our students themselves? Participants in our entry-level program, Cooks in Training, recently shared their feedback about Brainfood with us– take a look!

When asked “Why do you come to Brainfood Cooks in Training?,” students shared a variety of reasons- from earning community service hours to learning new skills to meeting new people. “I wanted to gain a sense of healthier cooking alternatives. Also doing something I enjoy for community service is a plus,” one student at our Chinatown site shared. Some students articulated their desire to participate in an after school activity (and try something they’ve never done before!), while others talked about their enjoyment of cooking or interest in cooking different types of food. Many said they come to have fun!

As a Brainfood instructor, I enjoy asking students about their favorite part of Brainfood, both to gain knowledge about what students enjoy most and also to see the numerous ways students connect with our programming. From just a small sample of responses, you can see there are many reasons our teen chefs enjoy their time in the kitchen!

  • “The process of cooking and enjoying the results”
  • “Hanging out with new people”
  • “The part I like the most is the discussion”
  • “Trying new recipes that I would’ve never experimented with”
  • “Working together with friends and meeting new people”

As you might guess, we spend a fair bit of time learning about food and cooking: from baking to sauteing to international cuisine to food waste. We asked students, “What’s one thing you’ve learned so far about cooking here at Brainfood?” and many talked about knife skills, knife safety, and the different types of cuts they learned in our 2-week Knife Skills Unit in the fall. Others shared what they’ve learned about the cooking process, such as “I learned how to properly read a recipe,” and “You can substitute healthy ingredients for unhealthy ingredients.” There were plenty of technical skills students said they’ve learned, like using a blender, baking, the differences between dough and batter, measuring, and stove-top cooking. I found some particularly insightful responses about cooking as a skill set: “There is no wrong way to cook” and “It is not as hard as it seems to make food.”

Students learn about much more than just cooking at Brainfood, evident in their responses to the question “What is one thing that you’ve learned about yourself here at Brainfood?” Some answers reflected upon teamwork: “I can work with others,” “I’ve learned to use teamwork while cooking because you get stuff done easily,” “I’m a big fan of teamwork,” and …I work well with new people. Not too bad at making new friends.” Several Cooks in Training participants have discovered a key component of teamwork, highlighted in answers such as, “Communication with your team is good,“How to communicate with others better,” and “I like to communicate.” Enjoy some other notable answers below, and see how much our high schoolers have learned about themselves in just three months!

  • I am not scared of trying something new
  • I could work on my patience more
  • I catch on to learning new things fast
  • I am more open than I think I am
  • I am good at being creative with meals
  • I’m a better cook than I thought

Looking ahead to a spring filled with new foods and new experiences, this is what you can expect to see inside (and sometimes outside!) the Brainfood kitchens for our first-year participants.

Our Cooks in Training students just began their meat and proteins unit, which highlights meat safety and sanitation and how to prepare things like chicken wings, “fake flake fried chicken nuggets” (say that 5 times fast!), meals to incorporate “beef on a budget” and seafood. This spring our students will also learn about herbs/spices, sauces, whole grains, salads, and the food system (starting by tracing the path of a single strawberry from germination to a consumer’s plate).

Cooks in Training also look forward to guest chefs from the DC community coming into our kitchens to teach new skills, in addition to a spring field trip to our youth garden! These blooming teen chefs will round out their year with Brainfood by exploring various international cuisines, talking about food and culture around the world, before ending with a special competition and graduation ceremony. Follow along with us this spring- we can’t wait to see how our students grow!