Teaching Kitchens — Food for thought
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Stuffing and roasting a chicken, assembling a chickpea, coconut, and cashew curry, stirring together ancient grain salads and made-from-scratch vinaigrettes — these aren’t the skills you learn in a typical Denison classroom. But in a new kind of classroom here, the “Teaching Kitchen,” these lessons are the order of the day.
This summer, through a partnership between Student Development and Denison’s dining provider, Bon Appetit, students were invited to participate in cooking lessons that taught basic techniques for preparing healthful (and delicious, and inexpensive) meals.
A Teaching Kitchen is unlike a standard kitchen. The layout typically includes multiple stations with tools for grinding, chopping, and stirring, a burner or two, and the basic ingredients for the meal of the day.
An instructor walks participants through the steps, providing them an opportunity to ask questions and to also build relationships with Denison chefs. Two to three students work at each station.
It’s all highly interactive, you learn a bunch of stuff, and you meet people who are also interested in food and cooking. And then… you get to eat!
The level of participant engagement can vary widely, from a primarily chef-led demo where guests are invited to try out a technique, to a fully participatory cooking class where guests are preparing full meals, says Bon Appetit Chef Manager Allen Gross.
Shaking up the format keeps things compelling and fun for students,” says Bon Appetit General Manager Paul Mixa. In addition to a varied format, the classes cover a whole host of topics.
“I learned great new recipes and met other Denison students who were just as excited as I was to do some culinary experimenting,” says Naamah Leerdam ’19. “And I developed better cooking practices, such as the proper way to handle various knives and understanding the temperatures that are recommended for preparing and serving foods.”
Vice President for Student Development Laurel Kennedy saw Teaching Kitchens elsewhere and thought it should be part of Denison’s wellness approach. “Teaching Kitchens have been built at places like Google, and also at major universities that have medical schools.”
“They’re almost never built to serve an undergraduate population,” she adds. “But when we look at the relationship between food and health, it’s such a no-brainer. And I think our students are going to love this. The summer classes were a chance to test that hypothesis.”
All the meals were centered around wellness and provided students with the knowledge and technique for preparing healthy, balanced meals.
“The most basic elements of cooking are all you need to properly cook vegetables, meats and grains. The program shares insight on the proper nutrients in your foods so you can balance your diet,” says Mixa.
Katherine Lindsey ’20 says, “I’d definitely recommend at least going to one class. A lot of students are not confident in their cooking skills and taking a class would be super helpful!” Lindsey says.
“As Denison continues to develop its whole-person approach to wellness, we’ll be continuing to expand the programmatic offerings, including hosting more of these teaching kitchens,” Kennedy says.
Leerdam concludes, “Teaching Kitchens are exactly what we need on campus to provide students the proper tools to take charge of our eating options as young adults, while practicing mindfulness of our health. It’s the perfect way to bring people together across all disciplines and class years to learn new skills and build community.”
Based on the interest expressed this summer, more classes will be offered in the year ahead! Keep an eye on MyDenison for upcoming events.