The Boys and Girls Club of Winnemucca has an after school culinary program aimed at teaching a range of kitchen skills.
The program started thanks to a generous contribution by the Rotary Club of Winnemucca. Rotarian Amy Edwards said, “Rotary Club of Winnemucca is often searching for a way to contribute to our community, and this particular time, the opportunity came with aprons!” She said many youth are “completely unaware of basic cooking techniques,” and the Rotary Club was happy to help remedy that.
“This skill is something everyone needs in life and these children have never learned how fun and easy it is to whip up their very own meals in no time. As these kids progress through life, they will be cooking for their families, their spouses and eventually their own children. Cooking seems to be a lost art and we’d like to fix that in our little town,” Edwards said.
Boys and Girls Club Executive Chef Ian Tolotti leads the twice-monthly sessions. Each lesson lasts 90 minutes to two hours.
Culinary Club is comprised of two groups. The kindergarten through sixth grade class learns basic skills like measuring volume and following procedures. The seventh through 12th grade group learns more advanced skills like how to properly use a knife and how to convert recipe volumes.
All participants learn through practical, creative and tasty culinary application. For one class, the kids made purple potato pancakes. Tolotti purchased the potatoes from the Veggie Shack. “I shredded the purple potatoes and the kids came up with the mix and then we took turns frying them,” he explained.
One of the skills kids learn is mise en place preparation, which means all of the ingredients are prepared and at hand before pulling the recipe together. Tolotti also plans to include lessons on kitchen equipment identification and use and cooking technique.
The program has been up and running since October, and participants have had opportunities to show off their new-found skills. They made treats for the Lights On After School open house. The younger class made “spooky graveyard yogurt parfaits,” and the older group made soft pumpkin cookies to hand out to attendees.
The older kids prepared and served a meal to the Boys and Girls Club Board of Directors during one of their meetings. The lesson for the night focused on properly cooking packaged pasta, so the entree was a pasta dish. The meal also included a salad, garlic bread and cookies.
Tolotti also plans to hold a Culinary Club-prepared three course meal for the kids’ parents in the spring.
How do the kids like it? “Oh, they love it!” Tolotti said.“It ranges from ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten’ to ‘I can’t believe I’m actually eating this. I’ve never tried this before.’
“The kids are constantly talking amongst themselves. ‘When is the next Culinary Club? Do you know when Chef’s got the next Culinary Club?’ I mean it’s a little buzz that’s underlying with all the kids.”
A taste of Culinary Club
On Thursday night, Chef Tolotti taught 26 elementary and middle school aged kids how to make jam. His table was covered with bowls of bright cranberries, oranges and lemons, plump blueberries and mellow chunks of peach and mango, along with other ingredients.
The lesson began with a short clip of Food Network star Alton Brown making freezer jam. Tolotti paused the video a couple of times to explain things the kids might not have understood.
The kids broke into groups and chose which of the three recipes they wanted to make: blueberry jam, mango and peach jam or cranberry and pomegranate chutney.
Each group approached the prep table. The group’s leader read the recipe and each child got to measure out ingredients into the group’s aluminum tray. Tolotti chose measuring spoons and scoops from a bucket nearby.
Later, the kids poured the ingredients into the waiting stock pots to cook.
Tolotti had ready-made blueberry jam on hand so each kid could help fill a sterilized glass canning jar. He warned the kids not to touch the inside of the jars because non-sterile jars would ruin the jam.
Of course, what is a cooking class without some product testing? The kids got to try the blueberry jam and the peach-mango jam paired with goat cheese on little toasts. The chefs-in-progress came back for seconds, thirds and fourths.
Tolotti hopes some of the Culinary Club participants will go on after the program to pursue culinary careers. He said some of the kids can finish the program and start culinary careers right out of high school or go to culinary schools.
Tolotti is currently working with Lisa Costa-Campbell at Great Basin College and Lowry High School Principal Ray Parks to get culinary vocational courses started there. Local opportunities will give Culinary Club participants a path to continue exploring a career in food.
Even participants who don’t ultimately follow a culinary trajectory will learn some vital skills through Culinary Club. Tolotti said participants learn how to eat healthy, and manage a budget. “And practical math comes to play all the time,” Tolotti said. “They don’t even know they’re doing it.”
“We’re really trying to bridge gap between school and home, keeping kids focused and motivated and steering them away from bad habits,” Tolotti said.
For more information about Culinary Club or other programs at the Boys and Girls Club, call 775-623-6325.