Kitchen Classroom

Youths feed themselves in Sunset Class
by Kelley Atherton, Del Norte Triplicate

Maria Raya, left, and Jessie Rice serve up chicken wings at Sunset High School on Tuesday. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson

Maria Raya, left, and Jessie Rice serve up chicken wings at Sunset High School on Tuesday. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson

Some local teenagers are being taught how to cook from scratch so that they don’t rely on fast food for sustenance.

 The Food and Cookin’ 101 class at Sunset High School is a pilot project of the Community Food Council to give youths the skills needed to eat healthier, said Angela Glore, a member and director of food programs for the Community Assistance Network.

“The idea was to start with some basics: nutrition, food safety, things like that,” Glore said. Lessons have expanded into  teaching knife skills, budgeting and using crock pots — “how to go from money in your pocket to a meal on the table.”

On Tuesday, Sunset High School students were divided into various kitchen stations. Some were browning chicken, others were making honey barbecue sauce and the rest were preparing chocolate chip cookies.

“They chose the recipes!” said Tara Johnson, one of the cooking instructors.

Next Tuesday, students will learn more about desserts for Valentine’s Day. Upcoming meals include tamales and spring rolls.

There have been a variety of instructors from the Network for a Healthy California, Del Norte Child Care Council and the Re-Think Your Drink campaign.

While the students are cooking, the instructors talk about nutrition,  the benefits and downsides of certain foods, and how to stretch money with deals and coupons when grocery shopping, Johnson said.

They’ve learned about how to  chop, measure and put it all together to make chili, chicken tortilla soup and hot wings in the crock pot, pasta salad and biscuits.

They use eggs from the chickens, fresh herbs from the garden and compost, all in the back yard of Sunset.

“Some know quite a lot and some not so much,” Johnson said.

One student could get a job at a restaurant now, she said, while others are just learning how to handle a knife.

“I’ve been cooking for a while,” said Jessie Rice, 16, a sophomore at Sunset.

Her mother taught her how to cook and when her parents divorced, she went to live with her dad and actually taught him how to prepare meals.

Andrew Skerik, 17, a senior at Sunset, said he’s well versed in cooking, adding “all the men in my family cook.” He learned from his dad and will someday run the kitchen in his household.

“I’ll be the man,” he said.

Cooking is a good skill to have, he said.

Maria Raya, 17, a junior at Sunset, said culinary skills could also be useful for a career someday.

She learned from her grandmother and knows how to read a recipe, but acknowledges, “I learned a lot being here.”

Raya is confident she could prepare a meal for her family.

“If I could make a meal for 40 people (at the school), I could make it for my family,” she said.

The Community Food Council was formed when people starting talking about helping Del Norters have access to healthy food as part of the Building Healthy Communities initiative of the California Endowment.

Sunset High was an obvious choice for a cooking and nutrition class because the school already has a kitchen that’s used regularly, Glore said.

The school also has a small enrollment that’s easier to work with, including low-income students and teen parents who could especially benefit from those skills, Glore said.

The Community Food Council received a grant of about $10,000 from Building Healthy Communities that pays for food, incentives for students and stipends for the cooking instructors.

The class is a pilot project this school year. By year’s end, there will be a curriculum guide available for other schools.

“If every kid left high school knowing the very basics of how to plan a food budget and healthy meals for their families — that is the goal,” Glore said.

More students are showing up for the class each week. The first class started with four students and then it was 12 and last Tuesday, there were 20 students, said cooking instructor Jessica Phillips.

“We’re doing something right,” Johnson said.

Glore has taught two of the classes and said the students were enthusiastic.

“They don’t care what you’re making, they’re going to eat it,” she said. “I was impressed with how willing they were to try new things.”