Firebellies, the Carleton College Culinary Club, has learned a lot about collaboration — and that it’s a skill as important as cooking itself.
The Northfield, MN, college culinary club began in the fall of 2011 with support from Bon Appétit. That collaboration has spanned on-campus cooking competitions, cookery workshops, dinner discussions, and more.
However, some of the more fruitful and engaging collaborations have focused on connecting Firebellies and Bon Appétit with the local community, through an afterschool program called Young Chefs. Started by Firebellies in 2012, this program works in two school districts to empower and inspire at-risk youngsters through cooking. Specifically, it uses mentoring and cooking to engage students with scientific concepts and principles, as well as provide them with valuable culinary and scientific skills and college role models.
One of the most important goals of the program is to introduce middle-school students to a diverse set of perspectives on college life — academic, social, personal, and, of course, culinary. This goal aligns extremely well with Bon Appétit’s deep commitment to community work, which is why the support from General Manager Kathleen McKenna and Sous Chef Gibson Price was immediate and remains steady.
Now each semester’s final class in the Young Chefs program brings students to the Carleton College campus, inviting them to partake in a hands-on cookery workshop led by Bon Appétit chefs. There have been many classes, each one focusing on a different cuisine and method of preparation. Recently, Sous Chef Gibson Price taught a class in East Dining Hall on quick and healthy fajitas for 20 students; meanwhile, Sous Chef Britton Good hosted a tour of the West Dining Hall, teaching a group of 15 students about the challenges and prospects of maintaining quality and care in large-scale food production.
No matter what the specific activity, the middle-school youth always love interacting with the professional chefs in a “real” kitchen and learning about what college students like to eat and how the food is prepared in a sustainable and creative manner. In surveys, most students indicate that the field trip is their favorite class in the program! For Firebellies, the Young Chefs program serves as a powerful way of enriching and building valuable relationships with at-risk youth; for Bon Appétit, it is a reminder that connecting with the local community can inspire the next generation. Students really engage and ask questions about becoming professional chefs and scientists and how best to plan their studies for these goals.
Inspired by the incredible results in just this community, Firebellies has helped launch a website, youngchefsprogram.org, for other educators reviewing the program implementation information, lesson plans for instructor use, and more than 80 quick and healthy original recipes for an academic or home setting. The collaboration between Firebellies and Bon Appétit has made college students, chefs, and middle school students realize that cooking really is more than what happens in the kitchen. Indeed, it is a universal language capable of facilitating relationships between individuals of different backgrounds, ages, and passions. What a delicious lesson!
Written by Vayu Maini Rekdal, ’15; submitted by Katie McKenna, General Manager;