THE Free Library of Philadelphia, always a source of food for thought, will start cooking for real Monday with the opening of the Culinary Literacy Center at the Parkway Central Library.

The demonstration kitchen - with three ovens, a walk-in refrigerator, 16 burners and seating for 36 guests - will offer activities to educate people of all ages, not just in nutrition but in general literacy, mathematics and even chemistry.

"People learn in different ways," explained Sandy Horrocks, the library's vice president of external affairs. And the Culinary Learning Center will offer several ways to learn: reading skills from recipes, math skills from measuring cups, chemistry in the oven and on the stovetop, as well as general problem-solving skills.

The kitchen project, part of ongoing renovations at the library, involved partnerships with the Garces Foundation, Vetri Foundation, the Careers through Culinary Arts Program - which works in nine Philadelphia high schools - Drexel University, Penn State, the Supportive Older Women's Network and others.

The kitchen will be "open to everyone," Horrocks said, but it will operate on a schedule that allows for a certified supervisor to oversee guests and ensure safe and sanitary cooking conditions.

An herb garden will open along with the kitchen, giving aspiring chefs a fresh source of ingredients.