The Cooking Room
I was raised in a food-obsessed family and it rubbed off. Luckily, I have been able to blend my avocation with my vocation by working as a writer and producer on many food-related projects throughout my media career. My husband, Tom, was career military, but in the civilian world became a pastry chef. When we had our baby Theadora in 2003, food took on an even greater importance. Being responsible for my daughter’s whole being was my priority and food was a big part of that. Family meals were made not only for deliciousness, nutrients, and “sacred family time,” but also as an essential part of my daughter’s happy childhood and education about life and food.
It wasn’t until my daughter started elementary school, that I recognized her relationship to food was super-special. I felt other kids should have an opportunity to get that same food education: buying, preparing, cooking, eating, trying, tasting, and learning about nutrients and deliciousness. This realization was a motivation for me becoming a co-founder of The Cooking Room along with Claudia Bellini, a multi-media producer and Zak Pelaccio, chef/owner of Fatty ‘Cue and Fatty Crab restaurants.
The Cooking Room is an elementary school program with the goal of promoting ‘food literacy’ in kids from kindergarten through 5th grade. It currently operates through a dedicated science/kitchen classroom at the innovative Greenwich Village-based PS 3 – aka The Charrette School – which my parents helped found and I attended from 1971-76.
Zak has been the guiding force of our program. It was a conversation he had with our school principal Lisa Siegman that birthed the program in the first place. Knowing there was to be a vacant science lab ripe for renewal, Lisa suggested Zak turn it into a food-related science lab. Claudia and I then came on board.
We always envisioned The Cooking Room as a fun place where teachers, professional chefs, instructors and dedicated volunteers educate kids in grade-appropriate lessons about food, cooking, and taste, while bolstering academic core-standards through the practical application of those skills in a stand-alone kitchen classroom.
And it has come to be.
The Cooking Room is the first of its kind – a hands-on kitchen space where public school students learn how to work with fresh ingredients to prepare healthy “real” food (as opposed to processed junk) as part of their daily field of study… not as an after school or afterthought program.
Zak sketched out various Cooking Room lessons and we started our initial program at P.S. 3 in the autumn of 2010. Since our inception, over three-quarters of P.S. 3 students have had lessons in The Cooking Room. Last spring kids cured anchovies (and ate them!); made soda from tamarind pulp, seltzer and cane sugar; and cubed vegetables to prepare minestrone from scratch.
In the summer of 2011, through the generosity of the International Culinary Center, we were able to hire Julie Negrin, a food education professional with over 15 years experience, to write an eight lesson curriculum. Additionally, Ann Yonetani, a Professor of Food Studies at The New School volunteered to expand, fine-tune, and fact check the curriculum. Meanwhile, Claudia and I created a terrific tag-team of leadership, organization, scheduling, details, cajoling and oversight.
In November 2011 we rolled out our new curriculum, organized around the five tastes and three macronutrients. For the first class we had a guided vertical salt tasting (using six varieties of salts donated by The Meadow) and the children made Pommes Purée (mashed potatoes), enriching and seasoning to their own tastes. They’ve had a great time prepping vegetables and emulsifying vinaigrettes; grinding their own arugula pesto; and determining the difference between yogurt sour and limeade sour. Everyone loved the sweet lesson with tastings of many sweeteners including cane sugar, molasses and even aspartame, then making chocolate or caramel fondue.
Through the work of our pro-bono lawyers at Orrick, Herrington, and Sutcliffe, we applied to receive our 501(c) (3) and are poised to become an officially recognized non-profit corporation. A few months ago we retained the pro-bono services of CPAs at Ganer, Grosbach, Ganer LLC to help us with the books and IRS.
With each step we’ve taken, we’ve received enormous positive response. We’ve already had several media hits, a hugely successful fundraiser at Fatty ‘Cue and we participated in an IACP-sponsored panel discussion. We’ve got a cadre of volunteers from inside P.S. 3 and, even better, from the outside community. Our volunteer blogger and social media expert is an editor at “Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food” and now Julie is writing an additional eight lessons enlarging our curriculum to 16 lessons in all.
Our goal to organically integrate food education into the academic standards of the school and to serve as a model for other schools is being realized, but we have a long way to go. We need money, we need volunteers, but we have plenty of terrific kids willing to experiment and learn about food – and there are millions more yet to be reached.
For more information and to volunteer time, donate money or resources visit us at: thecookingroom.org
Photo Credit: Craig McCord
Chris Regan and Ashley Mayne produce a wide array of delicious greens for the Hudson Valley.
With his new book, Forrest Pritchard tells the stories of 18 farms from all across America.
Forrest Pritchard and Smith Meadows are prime examples of sustainable family farming.
Jonathan Waxman shares his food philosophy with Slow Films.
A group of star chefs play with fire for a good cause.