Maureen: Great to see you back in your daughter’s kitchen. And what a great thing to expand your cooking outreach to five schools. Teaching fifth graders healthy cooking skills may in fact be as difficult as teaching calculus in kindergarten. But I am truly impressed that you multiplied the challenge by five and continue to make a difference in these neighborhoods in need. Home cooking may in fact be a lost art in an age of fast foods and eating on the run. But this is surely an area where the process is a valuable as the product. Preparing a home cooked meal involves planning, team work, timing, choosing healthy ingredients, working in close quarters, being prepared to experiment and take risks etc. All these life skills are as important as the gazpacho that ends up on the table at the end of the process. In other words, in the art of home cooking there is a social science experiment in the works. If any of these kids can take these skills learned in your kitchen classrooms and bring them home to their families, the joy of cooking may be just the time spent with family members working on the meal, talking (and not on the computer or some other electronic device) and interacting in ways that we have lost to technology, cell phones, social media and flat screens. I look forward to reading your essays and going to the Food Section before the Sports Section at least a few days of the month.
With best regards, Joe
Joseph T. Stapleton | Partner
No one was more excited about cooking classes than Mark Ramirez, 10, one of the fifth graders at Bayard Taylor Elementary School in North Philadelphia, where we started lessons last week.
"I cook with my dad a lot," he said. "He's taught me all the basics."
His was the first hand to shoot up at every question. Who wants to read the recipe? Who wants to wash the vegetables. Who wants to chop the tomatoes? Mark was all in.
Last spring, I spent 10 weeks teaching cooking classes for fifth-graders at St. Martin De Porres school in North Philadelphia and writing about it. The project grew out of a blog I had started with my daughter, with the mission of encouraging her, as a young adult, to cook more of her own meals. Thus the name: My Daughter's Kitchen.
The expansion resulted from my lament that home cooking is becoming a lost art, and that if I could convince schoolchildren how easy and rewarding it is to make healthy meals, they might take some of the lessons home.
After every story about the classes, reader reaction poured in. The recipes were simple, inexpensive, and good. One reader who said she had never been much of a cook told me she cut out a photo of the girls and hung it in her kitchen. "If they can do it, so can I," she said.
The five girls were hard at work: Hope Wescott and Maliyah Gregg stood at the sink, quickly and expertly peeling potatoes.
Kayla Reid was at the kitchen table, carefully drying each leaf of romaine and chopping it with precision.
After selecting the serrated knife, Chamya Davis was efficiently cutting bread for croutons.
As our cooking classes wind down - just one more to go! - I still want to introduce healthy meals, but I also long to teach these 11-year-old girls to make something they really love.
I figured smoothies were a good bet, and I knew better than to whip up the banana, kale, flaxseed, and almond milk concoctions I love. I'd go with a basic banana-yogurt-honey blend, and present it as an alternative to the fast-food banana milkshake Jayla Reeves loves.
But as we started, Jayla spoke up. "Are you making it with yogurt?"
Jayla Reeves saw the muffin tin and her hopes soared.
"Are we making cupcakes? Maybe organic cupcakes?" she asked.
"Well, no. Corn muffins!" I said, trying to summon equal enthusiasm. Not quite as heart-stopping as cupcakes with frosting, I realized.
The girls were so thrilled to see chicken thighs and drumsticks that they temporarily lost their minds.
"Are we making fried chicken?" Hope Wescott asked breathlessly.
"Sorry," I said. "Not in a class about healthy cooking."