Throughout the summer the BU Gastronomy blog will feature occasional posts from special guest writers including current students, recent alumni, professors, and more. The following Guest Post and photographs are brought to you by Gastronomy student Elizabeth Mindreau.
My two worlds collided in a most delicious way recently when I was a chaperone on my son’s field trip to Boston University, where I am enrolled in the Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy. Thirty-six students from Brookline’s W.H. Lincoln School made the journey to the Fuller Building where the enthusiastic seven and eight year-olds participated in Cooking Up Culture, Boston University’s culinary arts program for kids. The field trip was the culmination of the students’ month-long exploration of the Hopi culture.
Cooking Up Culture programs are offered to students in grades one through twelve as a way to teach about different cultures through their cuisine. Local chefs and culinary professionals teach the courses under the coordination of Lisa Falso, Supervisor of Culinary Programs. For this generation of kids, raised watching cooking programs on TV, participating in the two-hour course held in the Culinary Arts Department classroom kitchen is an interactive thrill. Chef Dwayne Minier, impressive in a dark grey chef shirt and white apron, was our instructor with the assistance of Lisa Falso, dressed in white chef attire.
Minier and Falso are both graduates of BU’s Culinary Arts Program. They demonstrate the program’s strong foundation of educational and professional excellence through their knowledgeable and flawless execution of the Hopi lesson. The challenges of maintaining order and keeping the attention of a room full of hungry and excited apron-clad kids was apparent, but Minier’s no-nonsense approach and Falso’s gentle demeanor were successful in engaging the children and keeping them focused.
Minier introduced students to cooking terms: steeping, sautéing, and sear; ingredients of the southwest: cactus pads, wild herbs, and chili powder; and geographic, agricultural, and culinary details of the Hopi people. The students were eager to ask questions and offer comments. They demonstrated their knowledge of the Hopi culture and an impressive cooking savvy. Cooking Up Culture requires that students have some knowledge of a culture prior to attending the program. A theme that connected the students’ studies at their school with the field trip was the three sisters garden, a technique favored by Native Americans farming communities. The “three sisters” refers to corn, beans, and squash, which are planted together in a mound and form “the perfect protein” according to Minier.
Teachers and chaperones were impressed at how receptive the children were to eating food that was new to them. One student said, “This is the best food I ever ate,” and, “The Hopis have good taste.” The peppermint tea, succotash (made with the three sisters), and nopalitos (cactus pads) and chicken stew are not typical children’s fare. Not surprising is that cheers broke out when Minier entered the room carrying a tray piled high with sweet fry-bread the children had shaped into rings earlier. The students then applauded when Minier sprinkled the golden, misshapen rings with powdered sugar.
Minier, Falso, and the culinary students helping behind the scenes deserve a standing ovation for a job well done. The Cooking Up Culture program provides an excellent model for culinary education for children.
Elizabeth Mindreau discovered that it is possible to simultaneously go to graduate school (after not studying for 20 years) and keep two active and demanding sons alive and fed. She is looking forward to late nights, bleary-eyed mornings, and seeing her Gastro-friends again in the fall.