Happy Thanksgiving! And Happy Cooking for CPS Students at New Culinary High School

November 21, 2007

by Jean Saunders, HSC School Wellness Director

My phone rang early this morning. 

It was a friend, calling from her office to ask for my advice on turkey brining. To brine or not to brine? We had a great conversation about the merits of and techniques associated with brining turkeys. (I told her that it’s not difficult, it just takes some advanced planning. And, she decided that she was up to the challenge!) 

My friend was a apologetic about “bothering” me, but I assured her that it was just the opposite –-  I  love fielding questions about food and cooking, especially those that involve holiday meal preparations.

Time and time again, I find that conversations about food preparation are ice-breakers, common-ground finders and even confidence builders.

It looks like the folks over at CPS (Chicago Public Schools) and I might just agree on that point. Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported:

The Chicago Board of Education is expected to approve plans for the first high school designed to promote the culinary field and encourage dropouts to come back to school in Chicago. The school would target dropouts and at-risk 11th graders by providing vocational training aligned with a real world career. Slated to open in 2008, the school would award high school diplomas, state food-handling certificates and, through a partnership with a culinary institute, 16 college credits. This opportunity has the ability to change lives by giving students a second chance at high school, a tangible real-world skill and college credits.

Cooking as a way to encourage students to stay in school? Could it work? I certainly think so!

This firm conviction is based on my observations of the kids I’ve had the pleasure of cooking with over the years. I’ve had the chance to cook with second-graders as an enrichment to their math and social studies curriculum, with middle school students in French and Spanish language classes and with high school freshmen in their English literature class.

Without exception, these cooking experiences engaged kids who had been struggling with the regular academic material but became very engaged when we were preparing food. One of the second grade teachers I worked with told me that the star “student chef” in my cooking class was usually disruptive in class. When we were cooking, he was a model pupil.

There’s just something about cooking fresh, tasty food (and sharing it with others!) that can really bring out the best in people. We saw this at the Cooking up Change healthy cooking contest, when CPS culinary students prepared appetizers, desserts and healthy school meals. The students were practically radiant with excitement and pride in the amazing food they had created together.

I don’t have my crystal ball handy,  but I’m convinced that the kids who had an opportunity to develop their cooking skills at school have their sleeves rolled up right now, cutting and chopping their way to a great Thanksgiving feast with their families and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving!