Today’s guest post is served up by Kristy Levings, CFSN Regional Lead and Project Director of Farm to School Yolo, which is part of the Yolo County Department of Agriculture. Whether or not you’re near to her exciting Farm to School work in the Sacramento Valley, you’ll love these promising practices for pulling off a great scratch cooking class!
Sometimes, to really make change, you have to roll up your sleeves and get in the kitchen.
Here in Yolo County, we’ve had the unique opportunity to facilitate a CDFA California Specialty Crop Block Grant focused on developing the Farm to School effort and increasing school district procurement of specialty crops grown on local farms.
In administering the grant, we understood early on that part of developing the market within school districts for procuring local product was also about encouraging their use. We are accomplishing this by offering schools specially tailored cooking classes that feature a California specialty crop and often infuse it with an international flair. These classes are taught by the culinary dream team Ann Evans and Georgeanne Brennan of Evans & Brennan LLC.
With 45 cooking classes spanning 5 school districts over a three-year time span, we’ve discovered that these classes can be an opportunity for a fun and delicious staff development experience. You can use this time to develop things like knife skills, try new California specialty crops like Asparagus, or simply boost team morale!
To make sure your staff cooking classes are fun and successful, we suggest these nine key “ingredients”:
- Before the class, the Food Service Director or class leader should set the recipe selection and shop for the ingredients.
- The class should feature the ingredients to be used, with the exception of meat and dairy, are attractively displayed.
- The Food Service Director, his or her designee, or an outside culinary consultant such as a chef or culinary professional should lead the cooking as well as discuss the ingredients. We recommend that the leader pay special attention to any new or unusual ingredients such as persimmons and offer lots of taste tests as appropriate.
- Make sure everyone in the class has a recipe packet with info about the ingredients they’re using such as where they come from or the history of the recipe.
- The class leader should go over the recipe with the group and encourage that participants also cook- usually in teams of two or three.
- Recipe assignments should be made and participants should gather their ingredients and go to their cooking stations.
- 30-40 minutes before the end of the class, participants will finish their dishes and be asked to plate them.
- The completed dishes are set out on a table or counter with plates, bowls and utensils provided for tasting. The class leader asks each team to introduce their dish and explain how it was made.
- Once all the dishes have been presented- it’s time to eat! Let everyone sample all the dishes.
These recommendations for creating a cooking class with food service personnel were drawn from Yolo County’s publication “California Specialty Crops: A Guide to their Use in School Lunch” (and now available on the CFSN resource page!) Please visit our website www.HarvestHubYolo.org and click on the “Guidebook” tab to download the guidebook and its recipes in their entirety. Enjoy!