By John Burton |
RED BANK — It’s (almost) never too early to learn how to cook.
That’s the idea behind Look Who’s Cooking at Lunch Break, a program at the food pantry and soup kitchen that teaches children between the ages of 5 and 12 basic culinary skills and so much more.
“I like to teach them food that they can make for themselves and eat every day,” said Judy Delgado, who teaches the classes. For the first session, Delgado instructed the group on how to roast a chicken, make mashed potatoes and to cook a vegetable. “It’s food they know and for the most part they like,” and have had in their homes, in all likelihood, she said.
Delgado, a Shrewsbury resident, co-owns and operates Cousin’s Catering, a Spring Lake Heights business, and has been cooking professionally “forever and forever,” she said with a smile.
The program runs in four-week sessions, once week for two hours, at Lunch Break’s kitchen, 121 Drs. James Parker Blvd., where the students receive instructions on handling the implements (substituting plastic knives for metal) and equipment, like electric mixers and ovens. They also learn, Delgado explained, along with rudimentary techniques, respect for the work area and for those who work in it, whether it be professionals or parents preparing dinner. “I want them to learn that this can be hard,” seeing what family members undertake and those working in the restaurant, she said, instilling in them the importance of manners.
And, yes, math, she added. “I tell them to take math serious in school. I tell them they’re going to need that.”
The program was started in 2010 by a volunteer who would donate the food prepared in the children’s cooking class conducted at the volunteer’s home, according to Gwendolyn Love, Lunch Break’s executive director. But there was a snag, as the food being used hadn’t been inspected and approved for the facility. To get around that, Love explained, they decided to hold the classes right at Lunch Break.
The classes are free to the children, with the chef asking for a donation of food for the sessions; and the food prepared by the students is incorporated into the next day’s lunch served to the facility’s clients, Love said.
This program, Love said, represents the work that Lunch Break does. “The same type of philosophy,” she said. The children are preparing food to be eaten by those in need who visit Lunch Break for a helping hand, she said. “It also teaches these young people what’s going on in their neighborhoods.”
Love added, “I think it’s a pretty awesome combination of volunteering, of teaching and providing a really nice meal for our clients.”
On the night The Two River Times was in attendance, on Nov. 15, after all the children had donned rubber gloves and hairnets, Delgado had her charges start by learning to bake a banana cake topped with a cream cheese frosting – done first to allow the cake to be ready for tasting by the end of the session. Delgado also showed the kids how to wedge potatoes for roasting and cutting up vegetables for oven roasting. That led to a conversation with the chef explaining the distinction between roasting and caramelizing. She also offered an important lesson: “You have to think ahead,” she told the children. And not just for working in the kitchen, she added. “For everything in life.”
Sharon Kreft of Keyport brought her daughter Grace to work on a Girl Scouts’ badge. Along with that, Kreft thought the lesson went well beyond earning a scouting recognition. “I think they’re learning about themselves and to benefit others,” she said.
The benefits of the evening’s efforts were more basic for the kids, with Grace acknowledging the best parts were “making it and eating it.”
“I do try to teach the shortcuts,” that she’s learned over the years, Delgado said. But more importantly, she added, “I’m trying to teach them how to take care of themselves.”
The next lesson Delgado said she might show them how to make mac and cheese, and possibly meatballs. Was there anything they would like to learn? Delgado asked.
“Oreos?” one child ventured to ask.
“That’s not really food,” Delgado answered.
Lunch Break was established in 1983 providing a place for those in need to get a hot meal, some groceries and some company. Since that time as need grew, the facility has expanded its services, offering clothing, job counseling and facilitating social programs, among other services.
This article was first published in the Nov. 30-Dec. 7, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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