By Peter Jasinski
October 26, 2015
LEOMINSTER — Who said cooking is only for the grown-ups? Admittedly, being older makes it easier to reach ingredients on the top shelf, and maybe makes you a bit more confident working at the stove, but that isn’t what cooking is about. For students at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg & Leominster, cooking isn’t about age, it’s about passion.
“I am very passionate about cooking, and I was willing to do anything to get into this class,” said 11-year-old Zoey Ellis.
Ellis is one of the lucky 20 local children, selected among a list of 90, who we’re able to get into the ChopChopKids cooking program being offered at the Boys & Girls Club. The eight-week program features a different healthy dish each week that is cooked by kids under the supervision of on-hand support staff.
“We’re in week five now, so they’re kind of seasoned pros at this point,” said Abby Reich, a special-projects associate for ChopChopKids and who oversees the kitchen.
On Thursday, quesadillas were on the menu. Students ranging from ages 6-11 gathered around the brushed steel table at the center of the Boys & Girls Club’s kitchen. Taking turns, they read aloud from the menu, going over each step. It’s not just a quesadilla, it’s a black bean and corn quesadilla.
Trying new things is a big part of the experience.
“Last week, one of them said how they hate salad and they’d never eat it, but when we did make it he ended up eating two whole bowls of it,” said Reich.
The program was made possible by a $100,000 grant that The Harvard Pilgrim Foundation put toward creating healthy cooking classes in and around Greater Boston. Though it’s not the first cooking class offered at the club, it’s quickly becoming the most popular.
“We’ve had a couple in the past we’ve run ourselves. It tends to be expensive, and the staff might not have the same expertise, but the kids are still always interested,” said Rocco Spagnuolo, a Boys & Girls Club unit directors.
“Kids love the cooking programs.”The idea behind it is to form the basic building blocks of cooking ability, creating simple dishes that are both healthy and easy to make at home. It’s intended for newcomers, but many claim to already know the joy of cooking.
“It’s really fun because here you actually get to cook. Usually in other classes you can’t stand in front of the stove and actually do it,” said Iayanasade Williamson, who, in addition to what she’s learned so far with the new cooking program, has a cooking repertoire that includes a couple pasta- and soup-based dishes.
Iayanasade is also just 6 years old.
Because of their age, the children aren’t able to handle anything too dangerous. The sharpest things they get near are vegetable peelers and cheese graters, but they’re still able to make do.
Ben Boyer, 11, displayed a steady hand in his spatula work. He was among the few students able to flip his quesadilla without help.
“I think it’s important to start learning how to cook when you’re young, because you need to know how to fend for yourself when you’re older,” he said, midflip. “It’s also a great way to relieve stress.”
The cooking class is part of a larger effort in Boys & Girls Clubs around Boston and Worcester. It was designed by ChopChopKids founder Sally Sampson and former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses.