Archive for the ‘what our students are doing’ Category

NGI President Jenny Matthau, Chef Rich LaMarita, and grad Colin Zhu

Our Chef’s Training grad Colin Zhu was kind enough to report to us on NGI’s recent collaboration to teach a nutrition class with NY Coalition for Health School Food at PS 184 in Chinatown . . . 

On Friday, May 25, the Natural Gourmet Institute had the good fortune to do cooking demonstrations at P.S. 184, Shuang Wen Elementary School in Chinatown. The NGI team consisted of Chef Instructor Rich LaMarita, Chef’s Training Graduate Colin Zhu, Chef’s Training student Steven Stewart and NGI President Jenny Matthau.

NGI collaborated with Healthy School Food in teaching nutrition to two 5th grade classes. As each nutrition class ended, Colin and Steven assisted Chef Rich in the set-up of the food demonstration. As enthusiastic as the students were with each nutritional class, they could not help being totally enticed by what the chefs were preparing.

The NGI team made three dishes for the students: sticky brown rice cooked with coconut milk and star anise; black beans with onions, tomatoes, toasted cumin and oregano; and a hearty guacamole made with red onions, chopped Beefsteak tomatoes, cumin and cilantro served with crisp sticks of jicama.

During the presentation, Chef Rich displayed all the ingredients, talked about the unique origins of each food item, showed how to sauté the toppings for the black beans and how to make guacamole.

The students were eager to try each dish. Having just learned about macronutrients the class before, they were excited to have their senses amused by an actual cooking demo right in their own classrooms. The combination of nutrition class and a fantastic cooking demonstration created the perfect recipe for each student’s culinary curiosity.

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As we mentioned yesterday, the results of our contest “How did the Natural Gourmet Institute change your life?” are in! Meet our second winner, Carolyn Gilles, who graduated from our Chef’s Training Program in 2005. It’s an inspirational and heartwarming story . . .

Carolyn writes:

In 2004, I was living in Savannah, Georgia and had begun to cook for clients and parties. I felt I had finally found something I was interested in enough to start a career. (Until that point, I had collected a lot of “jobs.”)  Being vegetarian at the time, I had zero interest in learning to cook meat, so upon searching for a culinary school, my primary criteria was that it be vegetarian (at least mostly). Much to my surprise, I found the Natural Gourmet Institute via Google. I researched the school, got a few recommendations, and took the biggest and most rewarding leap of my life to that point.

I blindly rented an apartment in Murray Hill that was available for the exact 4 months I needed it with an unknown roommate, signed up for the Chef’s Training Program, and was on my way in only a matter of a couple months. (Ya gotta follow your gut!) My program (CTP 119) started on February 1, 2005. I was 24 years old and excited about everything the world had to offer: I was truly soaking it all up.

The instructors and fellow students made the Natural Gourmet everything amazing that it was for me. The support and general sense of care was evident in every classroom and office. I never felt intimidated or scared, only supported and encouraged to try new things and push myself to grow and learn. Being a young woman, alone in a new city, I also really appreciated the weekend field trips some of the instructors would organize. It was a safe way to get to know the city and all it had to offer.

I came to the school thinking I knew healthy food . . . and that was turned upside down. I learned more than I had ever known about industrial agriculture and Annemarie Colbin’s wisdom shared in “Food and Healing.” I remember the excitement of learning all of this new information and knowing very clearly that my life would never be the same.

After graduation, I was not ready to go back to my life in Savannah. Not only did I know I had more to experience and learn in NYC, I had fallen in love with one of my CTP cohorts, Schot Hannan. We lived in Brooklyn together for 4 years after the program and in 2009 we moved to my home state of Kentucky, where he could attend medical school and get a taste of life as I knew it . . . a little bit slower paced.

With Schot finishing up his 3rd year at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine hoping to pursue a career in endocrinology and pediatrics (addressing childhood obesity), we recently got engaged and hope to be married later this year. In May 2011, I opened a small teaching kitchen here in Lexington, KY called The Wholesome Chef. I am teaching average everyday people here what real food is and how to prepare it. It is the most rewarding career I could have imagined for myself, and every day I am grateful for the experience I had at NGI and in NYC in general. Perhaps someday Schot and I will be business partners, treating his patients with good food and teaching them the skills they need to empower positive change in their own lives.

Should Schot and I find our wedding happening in New York, I’ve always dreamed of buying all the FND seats and having our rehearsal dinner there . . . back to the place that brought us together and changed our lives for the better!

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Earlier this month, the Natural Gourmet asked former and current students to tell us, “How did the Natural Gourmet Institute change your life?”  From all of the submissions we received, three winners were selected to receive a Friday Night Dinner for 2.

In the next few posts, we will be featuring the entries of the three winners (in no particular order).

First up . . . Elisa Haggarty, a public class student who will be starting in our Chef’s Training Program this fall:

Midway through my studies at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a Holistic Health Coach, I decided to take my mom out for a surprise in NYC. My mom, who raised 7 children and who has always put others first, is struggling with a few chronic diseases. She has had hypothyroidism and depression for years and took what she was told to take: medications.

I had been trying to explain to her that our bodies have a natural capacity to heal themselves if we just allow them to with dietary and lifestyle changes, but she wasn’t really having it. So, I signed her up to attend “Nourishing Your Thyroid” with Andrea Beaman, and we rode the train into NYC together.

When we got there, I was utterly thrilled to be in such a passionate and health-driven atmosphere. It gave me chills. About 20 minutes into Andrea’s talk to about 25 middle aged women, I just couldn’t stop smiling. Andrea’s words spoke to me, and I knew that my life would never be the same after that evening. Her passion, message of food as a healer, the atmosphere of NGI had me convinced: this is what I am meant to do. I turned to my mom and said, “Mom, one day, I will be doing what Andrea is doing!” She smiled but I couldn’t say she was convinced that this way of using food as a healer was the way, at least not for her.

I’ve since graduated from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and have started a very successful private practice geared towards healing chronic diseases through dietary and lifestyle adjustments. That night at The Natural Gourmet is one I will never forget. It was so influential to me that I have decided to attend The Natural Gourmet this coming fall for their Professional Chef Training Program. Helping my mom heal herself is a continued goal of mine, and I think seeing what food and healing has brought to me has sparked something in her she didn’t think possible a year ago.

My health coaching website is: www.elisahaggarty.com

My health coaching blog is: www.elisahaggarty.blogspot.com

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Chef Madea and Chef Liz conducting a healthy food demonstration at a bodega in Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY, (July 2011)

Like many of our Chef’s Training graduates, Chefs Liz Fleischman and Madea Allen are working to improve the quality, nutrition, and overall appeal of our nation’s school lunches. Both are chefs working with SchoolFood, the New York City Department of Education’s initiative “committed to promoting healthy food choices for our students and maintaining high nutritional standards while offering delicious, healthy, and satisfying menu options to reach this goal.” Here they share their experience of the past year giving high school salad bars a sometimes much-needed makeover.

We are both Chef’s Training graduates of Natural Gourmet Institute and are known around New York public high schools as the “Salad Bar Chefs.”

For the last year, we have worked in school kitchens to enhance salad bars as part of a project initiated by the NYC Department of Health and funded by the Center for Disease Control.  The project’s aim is to make salad bars more appealing to young people so they eat more vegetables. If we achieve our goal, we can decrease the rate of obesity in this generation.

Many New Yorkers are surprised to learn that every New York public high school has a salad bar. They don’t know that cafeteria meals in New York public schools are some of the best in the country.  For example, only whole grain bread and pasta is served, and no trans-fats, corn syrup, MSG or artificial colorings are allowed in any of the packaged products served to students. Fresh fruit is offered every day.

These standards might seem overly basic but, considering the state of food in most US schools, they’re very forward-thinking. It’s because of these changes made over the last decade that obesity rates among New York public school students have actually decreased. Even with this good news, however, everyone agrees there is still a lot of work to do.

School salad bar quality varies widely. Some are vibrant magnets for students who pile loads of greens and cucumbers onto their plates, while others are dull and stocked with unloved produce. Overall, most could use some improvement, even if it’s a small tweak, such as changing the salad bar unit’s location or offering a greater variety of dressings. It’s our job to hone in on what a particular school needs and to provide immediate solutions.

Each New York school salad bar features large pans of standard SchoolFood green salad (romaine, spinach, shredded carrots and red cabbage), smaller pans of cut garnishes (sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.) and two or three prepared salads. The salad bars are vegan with a few exceptions.

Our job is to steer kitchen staff away from using mayonnaise-based salads and move them toward prepared salads with fresh herbs and bold flavors. For instance, we successfully influenced the decision to eliminate large tubs of pre-made, mayonnaise-based potato salad. In its place, we taught staff to prepare a delicious “Zesty Potato Salad” with roasted red potatoes, dill pickles, red onion, celery, fresh parsley and freshly made vinaigrette.

We visit a different cafeteria kitchen every two days, assessing the produce in the refrigerators, what’s available and how it’s stored. In kitchens that rely on a lot of processed and frozen foods, many staff members don’t know how to extend the life of fresh herbs or other fresh greens. We particularly emphasize the importance of proper storage and work with them to organize produce so it’s protected, organized and accessible. We also spend time talking to the cooks about their salad bar preparation routine and the popularity of certain items.

Once we investigate the situation, we get to work demonstrating new recipes, finding ways to work more efficiently, and training staff on equipment such as food processors and buffalo choppers that speed up vegetable prep. Many cafeteria staffers are short on time, working hard to get everything done by the first lunch service.  Slicing 10 pounds of zucchini in a food processor instead of by hand saves enough time to prepare a fresh dressing or a bean salad with chopped herbs.

Chef Liz with cook Maggie during a food processor training at Bronx Academy HS in June, 2011

After we set up the renovated salad bar, we watch the action from behind the counter to see the students’ reactions to the makeover. If students ignored the salad bar every day since the start of school, they will take a second look when they see a colorful and fresh array of items. They usually comment on how it looks, and we encourage them to try something new, such as a healthy coleslaw or pasta salad with roasted vegetables and basil pesto. If we stay at a school one or two days longer to monitor what’s happening, we often see the students coming back for the new item they tasted and really liked.

Many students enjoy tasty composed salads from the salad bar. Healthy coleslaw, black bean salad and vegetable lo mein are popular at many high schools throughout the city.

At many schools, cafeteria staff tell us, “These kids don’t like salad.” But once we put out more fresh items or make a new salad, we often witness renewed interest. High school students today are savvy.  They’ve seen shows on the Food Network that feature beautifully prepared salads, and they can discern a good salad bar from a neglected one.  That’s why at every visit to a cafeteria, we keep the following 5 Keys to a Successful High School Salad Bar in mind:

  1. Make it colorful.  Colorful salads entice students. They may not take every item on the salad bar, but they are drawn to it and usually find something that appeals to them.
  2. Make it fresh.  It’s easy to rely on canned items when a kitchen is busy and under stress, but fresh produce is almost always more flavorful and colorful. Once in a while, a canned bean salad is great, but fresh produce is always best!
  3. Know the students’ preferences.  In some schools, students don’t like red cabbage. Adding it to the salad mix can cause students to forego salad altogether. However, removing it can sometimes increase greens consumption. If you know your students’ preferences, you can target their favorite vegetables and focus your salad bar on those.
  4. Treat produce with care.  Proper produce storage is vital to the long-term success of the salad bar. It guarantees less waste, making the salad bar financially viable for a kitchen manager.
  5. Use tasty dressings.  Knowing how to make basic vinaigrette is vital for adding flavor to prepared salads. Once you know basic vinaigrette preparation, you can make many variations with added herbs, various vinegars and mustard.

When we are not busy providing culinary skills training to cafeteria workers, we lend our expertise and support to other projects and areas of SchoolFood.  These include:

Garden to School Café:  Garden to School Café is a program of NYC Department of Education, NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets and NYC Parks & Recreation, GreenThumb. The program connects school gardens and school meals through lunchtime harvest events and educational activities. The purpose is to increase students’ consumption of fresh vegetables and knowledge of healthful foods, farming and the local food system. Alongside the program coordinator, SchoolFood regional chefs and cafeteria workers, we assist with the harvesting of fresh herbs and vegetables as well as preparation of school meals using the produce.

Chef Madea harvesting baby kale during a Garden to School Café harvest event at PS 41 in West Village, New York, NY (June 2011)

Department of Health’s Healthy Bodegas Initiative:  A sister CPPW project, the aim of this initiative is to increase healthier options at local bodegas, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain bread, low-fat milk, low-salt and no-sugar-added canned goods and healthy snacks. During the summer months of 2010, we conducted 10 healthy food demonstrations at 4 bodegas in Morris Heights, Harlem and Bushwick. We showed customers quick and easy ways to prepare healthier recipes, all with food bought from the bodega. We created and gave samples of delicious recipes such as Black Bean Salad, Watermelon Pineapple Salad and Salmon Salad Sandwich.

Enhanced Inventory Program (EIP): In an effort to expose students to food items not normally associated with school lunch, the Enhanced Inventory Program allows school Principals to select items such as salmon, organic quinoa, grass-fed beef from a local NY state farm, virgin olive oil and organic legumes and to include them in their lunch menus.  So these products could be easily integrated into the school lunch program by cafeteria workers, we modified existing SchoolFood recipes, wrote new recipes and tested them in the test kitchen.

It has been beyond rewarding to use our culinary training, knowledge and skills to increase accessibility of more nutritious, fresh food to youth in New York City.  There’s more work to do in our school food system, both in New York City and throughout the nation. Hopefully, more students and graduates of Natural Gourmet will join us and seriously consider how they would improve the nutritional climate for the next generation.

South Bronx Campus High School, Bronx, New York City, Salad Bar Training, April, 2011


Healthy Coleslaw with Honey Ginger Dressing
(Serves 4-6)

1 small head green cabbage, shredded

2 carrots, shredded

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 cup olive oil

Juice of 2 lemons

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1. In a large mixing bowl, toss cabbage, carrots, red onion and parsley.  Mix well to combine ingredients thoroughly.

2. To a food processor, add olive oil, lemon juice, honey, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper.  Process until dressing is thoroughly mixed and creamy.  Adjust seasonings if necessary.

3. Toss salad with dressing.  Chill for two hours.  Serve with burger or wrap sandwich.

Zesty Potato Salad

(Serves 4-6)

2 lbs red potatoes, washed and scrubbed, large dice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 small red onion, small dice

2/3 cup dill pickle chips, medium dice

2 stalks of celery, small dice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


2/3 cup white vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, toss potatoes with olive oil, salt and black pepper.  Spread potatoes evenly on sheet pan and roast in oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender and slightly browned around edges.

3. Cool potatoes and toss with onion, pickles and celery.

4. To a food processor add vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper.  Process until ingredients become a uniform mixture.

5. Toss potatoes with vinaigrette.  Garnish with parsley.

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And we’re back. As I suspected, my last blog roll of Natural Gourmet student and graduate bloggers was far from exhaustive. I’ve waited a while to cull another list of noteworthy food blogs for you. Our graduates are writing daily about food quality, food justice, food politics, food access food trends, nutrition, GMOs, irradiation, veganism, vegetarianism, omnivorism, local food, seasonal food, etc.

So here we go:

  • Danielle Krupa is the founder of Wellness Made Natural,  a company consulting in “healthy eating by providing freshly cooked meals based on your personal dietary requirements; in-depth nutritional consulting; one-on-one and group cooking classes; kitchen makeovers; and practical lifestyle adjustments.” Her blog provides posts on cooking, nutrition, recipes, food politics: http://wellnessmadenatural.com
  • David Wallace is the champion of “Healthy. Delicious. Food.” His blog is chock-full of creative, plant-based recipes and the enticing food porn that makes you want to make them: http://meinyourkitchen.wordpress.com/
  • Erin O’Leary Stewart, owner of O’Cookie Wholesome Bites, also blogs about fitness and the relationship of food and health, while sharing her own healthy recipes: http://www.o-cookies.blogspot.com/
  • Ellen of Ellen’s Food & Soul graduated Chef’s Training and our Food Therapy Course. She is a personal chef/instructor, and a passionate advocate of whole, fresh food of the highest quality. Check out her well-researched, provocative blog posts on food issues: http://ellensfoodandsoul.com/blog/
  • Our current Chef’s Training student, Roberta Roberti, is already a published cookbook author and chef. On her blog she writes about her career path as well as her experiences in culinary school, sharing recipes as she goes: http://www.mizchef.com
  • Our grad Kali is currently starting up a supper club in London, but she’s also a private instructor and has been a pastry chef at a renowned vegetarian restaurant. Her blog, Food Therapy, shares vibrant photos, menus, and recipes from her repertoire: http://kalicooking.tumblr.com/
  • Competitive fitness model, yoga teacher,and professional chef Michelle MacDonald (also one of our graduates) gives you an insight into the worlds of competitive fitness and yoga as well as nutritional advice and recipes that support a healthy and fit lifestyle: http://www.yourhealthyhedonista.com/
  • A current Chef’s Training student Gabriela writes about her quest for a healthy lifestyle in New York while giving a compelling blow-by-blow of what it’s like to attend Natural Gourmet’s Chef’s Training Program: http://www.une-vie-saine.com/
  • Chef’s Training student Sherene writes a blog about her career path, her Natural Gourmet experience, vegetarianism, and other food-related issues: http://thehealthygourmet.wordpress.com/
  • Fork Avenue + Knife Street is the blog of our current Chef’s Training student, Rachael Abrams. Follow her culinary  adventures and her cooking school experiences in New York City: http://forkaveknifest.blogspot.com/
  • Our graduate, Marianne Cufone, is now the Executive Director of Recirculating Farms Coalition in New Orleans, Louisiana, an organization that advocates more sustainable farming through the use of recycled water in hydroponics and aquaculture. Check out her informative blog on the subject:  http://www.recirculatingfarms.org/

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Today I want to spotlight the creative, life-changing work of our students, past and present. Natural Gourmet grads and students are out there daily in the community, representing as vegans, vegetarians, gluten-frees, omnivores, food access activists, raw foodies, slow foodies, locavores, macros, to name but a few shades of our “food and healing” rainbow.

Like any community, our personal agendas sometimes differ. But more importantly, we do share a common passion for food that is whole, local, seasonal, organic, real, GMO-free, and irradiation-free. That core passion continues to find expression in our work.

You may, through your own foray in social media, know the work of some of these people. If you don’t, I wanted to begin a blog roll that will connect you to those who share your commitment to healthier food. These are people who are “walking the walk.”

This list is not exhaustive by any means; nor is it in any order of preference. I taxed my imperfect memory and records, and I suspect I’ve missed some vital links. Our community is nothing if not prolific, so think of this as Natural Gourmet Blog Roll, Part I.

If I omitted your link, NGI graduate, let me know so I can highlight you in our Blog Roll, Part II, as well as on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.

So with great pride I present my initial blog roll:

  • Our recent graduate, Jen Wanous, styles herself the “healthy hedonist” and enthusiastically shares recipes as well as her experiences and adventures in culinary school and her freshly minted culinary career: http://enjoyxo.wordpress.com/
  • Current NGI student Rebecca’s blog is a diverse but pithy compendium of nutritional information, food politics, numerous recipes, and recaps of her cooking school experiences: http://seasonwithreason.com/
  • A graduate of our Food Therapy Course, health coach Jenny Sansouci offers health tips, healthy recipes, nutritional advice, product reviews and detox advice: http://healthycrush.com/
  • Chef/baker “vegAnn” is a recent Chef’s Training graduate with a lot to say about vegan living. If you have a passion for vegan baking, her blog is a good resource for vegan baked good recipes: http://vegannskitchen.blogspot.com/
  • Another Chef’s Training student and an aspiring health coach, “Balancing Val” writes with humor and honesty about achieving healthy balance in all parts of her life. Her blog shares recipes, culinary school experiences, and philosophical musings on food issues: http://balancingval.com/
  • Vegan chef and baker extraordinare, Chloe Coscarelli is best known for recently representing vegan baking to winning effect on Cupcake Wars. Her website is a great vegan recipe and lifestyle resource: http://chefchloe.com/latest-news.html
  • Graduate Charles French chronicles his quest for health, offers recipes (including his award-winning Cheddar Cheese Brownie) and his experiences cooking healthy, fresh food for school kids in the Bay Area: http://charlesfrench.com/
  • Southern-based, whole foods chef Shane Kelly shares her own journey to health, the healing power of food, cooking know-how, and recipes from what she deems her Weston Price-based approach to food. http://www.chefshanekelly.com/
  • Renaissance woman/chef/caterer/instructor/consultant Molly Neuman offers a wide array of health-supportive cooking services, advice, multi-ethnic recipes, and menu planning options on her site: http://www.simplesocialkitchen.com/
  • Recent Chef’s Training graduate Kelsey uses her blog to share her school experiences, culinary adventures around NYC, and her passion for cupcakes (yes, there are recipes too!): http://www.girlwiththecupcaketattoo.com/
  • Garnesha Crawford, personal chef and consultant, says: “morsels & seeds was created to arouse thoughtful discourse and action on the intersection of food, farming, culture and justice. Simply put, morsels represent food and the linkages to culture and healing, while seeds represent life and the linkages to farming and ecological biodiversity – both are in dire need of protection.” http://www.morselsandseeds.com/
  • Chef Shana is committed to a plant-based diet and shares reviews and recipes that celebrate the vegan lifestyle. http://knifestylesofthefitandfabulous.blogspot.com/
  • Brooklyn-based personal chef Marina Berger is devoted to “responsibly sourced,” high-quality seasonal ingredients. http://marinacooks.wordpress.com/ She is also the host of Salt Salon, a monthly event that brings together guest art performances with food prepared by Marina. http://saltsalon.wordpress.com/
  • Marie Gonzalez is a personal chef, instructor, media figure, consultant, and caterer, living and working in Manila, Philippines. Her blog is about green living, plant-based cuisine, and the benefits of the vegan lifestyle. http://kitchenrevolution.ph
  • Check out our grad Sharon McGrail, host of BlogTalk Radio’s The Eco Chef, who has a bi-monthly radio show about health and healing. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/theecochef
  • Randy Rabney has full-spectrum consultation services that help people achieve a healthier diet and lifestyle. Services include initial consultation, pantry makeovers, shopping instruction, customized cooking lessons and much more. http://theconsciousplate.com/blog/
  • Check out the recipes, restaurant and market reviews, and other “submissions of intoxicating nibbles” as our graduate, Tricia Brown – consummate foodie, oenophile, chef and cooking instructor, travels cross-country. http://gourmetrix.com.
  • Check out the website of our graduate, Pooja Mottl, which deals with issues at the intersection of health, cooking, and fitness. http://poojasway.com/

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Chef's Training Student Keesha O'Galdez

Opportunity at the Natural Gourmet is found, among other places, on the 3rd floor student announcement board. It’s usually filled with information about various opportunities for students to volunteer or work, as well as other culinary points of interest. Postings can appear at any moment, so I have gotten into the habit of checking the board many times a day.

Recently I saw an announcement that read “Looking for cooking assistant to help with a ‘Summertime Superfood: The Essentials of Quinoa’ class at Whole Foods.” I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to learn how to organize classes, since I’m interested in teaching and conducting demonstrations. Oh, and then there’s working at Whole Foods (need I say more). I immediately responded and heard back from Bethany Butler, who was teaching the class. Bethany told me, “I’m looking for more of a co-host than an assistant,” to which I responded enthusiastically, “Perfect, I’m in!”

The NGI bulletin board - the source of opportunity

Over the course of a few weeks Bethany and I worked together on organizing the materials and outlining how the class would be conducted. We decided she would teach the nutritional aspect of the class, while I would take on the chef role. I was able to make valuable contributions to developing the class based upon past culinary experiences and my NGI classes, such as How to Teach a Cooking Class, Math, Recipe Writing, and of course from watching my fabulous instructors teach every day.

We first made a list of learning objectives for the students. At the end of the class we wanted to make sure students 1) understood what quinoa was, 2) knew how to make quinoa, 3) discovered how versatile quinoa was, and 4) had fun.

Our audience was novice cooks, so we had to tailor the class to that level. Culinary terms such as “chiffonade” and “small dice” would require explanation. The culinary staff at Whole Foods was very helpful. They assisted us by giving advice on how other classes were taught at the Center and how to order food for the class.

Finally, July 15th, the big day came. The game plan was I would go to my NGI classes during the day and head over at 4:30 to Whole Foods to help finish prep and get ready to teach at 6pm. Bethany got there early to help set up. I arrived at Whole Foods ready to go. Luckily, I got out of class 10 minutes early, and those 10 minutes meant a lot. I was able to clear my head and relax.

Set-up was going smoothly. I looked at the prepared sheet trays with the ingredients I needed for the demo, I stood back, smiled for a minute, and I thought, “The mise en place was prepared for me! This is the point where the student is the teacher.” At the last minute we had to make some minor changes to the format of the class on the fly. Feeling like actresses with 15 minutes until show time, we were a little nervous but confident that once the students came in we’d be ready.

We were ready. The 2 ½ hours flew by. We were all having a blast. One of the students that simply wanted to sit back and observe started to cook. Bethany went over the nutritional aspects of quinoa and encouraged the students along the way. I gave students tips and tricks on how to cut produce, herbs, etc. One woman was so pleased about learning how to cut a tomato she said, “I got my money’s worth out of this class because of that one tip!”

The class came to an end, bellies were full of quinoa, and the students were excited to go and make their own versions of the recipes. When the students filled out comment cards at the end, I’m pleased to say that they all enjoyed it. One student said, “Good teachers! Great Recipes! Very accommodating to food allergies – meant a lot to me. This class made me want to take more cooking classes”. Mission accomplished!

I have learned from this experience that it does take time to develop and streamline a class. But it gets easier over time. Also, we do know a lot more than we often give ourselves credit for. Lastly, I would encourage all my fellow students to seek out outside opportunity during your time at Natural Gourmet. It helps bridge the gap between what we learn in class and the real world. And, you can meet a great new friend like Bethany along the way.

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