by Lisa Tome
Aaliyah Brooker can now compete with her aunt in the kitchen.
Brooker, a sixth grader, and member of the cooking class at the the North East unit of the Boys & Girls Club, recently learned to make taco soup.
"I cook in the microwave at home. But I think it's interesting to learn new things about cooking, My aunt makes taco soup and I made taco soup. When I get older, I can cook at home for my children," said Brooker.
Boys & Girls Club director Fernando Estep recently started offering cooking classes for middle school students. It's not an option, it's a requirement, just as finishing homework is a requirement before the cooking begins.
"The reason I did it is that kids don't know how to cook. Some of them have never even held a knife," said Estep. "I was fortunate. My mom taught me to cook at eight years old. She got me involved. When I was a teenager I was able to make dinner for the family. Kids can't live off top ramen noodles and mac and cheese."
He's teaching the basics - from proper knife holding to preventing salmonella. Which would be easy for him if he had a proper stove. Since the club doesn't have a stove, Estep is teaching the lessons on his own stove. A Coleman camping stove with two burners which is powered by propane. The lessons are held outdoors at a picnic table.
"I want them to understand simple things. They can buy fresh food and take time to prepare it. It's okay to take extra time to make food. It's better, healthier, and cheaper," he said. The first week of cooking class, the 20 or so 11-13 year-olds learned to make the taco soup. Last week, they made California chicken and rice. The rice was not the quick cooking kind that comes in a box.
"I am anxious to learn how to cook. I make mac and cheese. I cook hamburgers and hot dogs on the outdoor grill and my mom watches me," said seventh grader Jonathan Poltorak.
Makenzie Rhodes was cutting up raw chicken. "It's harder than I thought. And it feels slimy," said Rhodes.
Eighth grader Maggie Smith is already a seasoned cook. "My mother taught me how to cook but I learned a lot here. I make omelets. I make chicken. I make tacos. My mom usually cooks, but when she's not home, I cook. But I never cooked on a camp stove before. That's a new experience," said Smith.