**This entry was originally published on Christine’s blog.
Last April, I was invited to teach a cooking workshop at the W Ross MacDonald School in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. A little background on WRMS: founded in 1872, the school teaches blind and blind-deaf students from grades K through 12. There are currently around 200 enrolled students.
With a grant received from the Ministry of Education in Ontario, WRMS created a Healthier Eating Program with the purpose of teaching students the importance of health and nutrition. As part of the program, I was asked to lead a one-day workshop and teach some of the cooking students how to independently prepare a nutritious meal. Many of the students were going to graduate and begin university soon, so as in the spirit of education, there was an emphasis on fostering independent thought and action.
So what should we cook together as a class?
There’s a careful process for curating a menu, whether it be for a fancy gala, an intimate dinner, a festive party, or (in this case) a student workshop. You have to consider your audience; understand the event; and know what’s available in terms of ingredients, equipment, and abilities of the cooks. For this workshop, my audience was high school students with no or limited vision. Soon they will be living on modest college students’ income, so the ingredients and equipment required couldn’t be expensive. I wanted the recipes to be easy so as to not intimidate, yet delicious enough for them to enjoy and want to revisit in their own kitchens. I also needed to encompass the different food groups to provide an array of nutrition. In considering all of these parameters, I decided to teach them how to make Peruvian-style baked chicken with green chile sauce, roasted vegetables, and rice pudding with orange zest for dessert.
Here’s a little known fact about me: I love chicken on the bone. I love gnawing all the meat and cartilage off chicken. The hubs makes fun of me because in the time I take to eat one chicken wing, he’s eaten four. My favorite part of the chicken are the leg quarters, because dark meat is juicy and delicious. It also is more forgiving during cooking, which means it’s harder to overcook. I requested the students cook with chicken leg quarters, but their teacher informed me she’s had trouble getting them to eat unfamiliar things like beans (yes, beans!), so bone-in meat may not go over well with the kids.
“They may get squeamish about it,” she said.
After I thought about it, I decided to refuse the substitution for boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I explained that people need to know where their food comes from: that meat comes from animals that were once living and not from a rectangular styrofoam container at the supermarket.
I said, “I want the students to respect their food.”
The teacher agreed and said hopefully since the “words of wisdom” would be coming from me and not her, maybe they’ll listen.
On the day of the workshop, I actually didn’t get any squeamish vibes from the students when they had to touch the raw bone-in chicken legs. I told them why it’s best to use whole chicken or at least chicken parts most intact and closest to resembling a whole chicken. Since it wasn’t a butchering class (and honestly, I’m not the greatest butcher), we settled on chicken leg quarters.
After the food finished, we all sat down to eat, and everyone enjoyed the mealtime together.
“Best of all,” I said, “you cooked it yourselves!”
The teacher and some of the students were so touched by my inspiring presence, that when they told me how much my time there meant to them, I felt in turn incredibly blessed. It’s always nice to be reminded why I’ve been given the position to advocate for the blind.
This experience of teaching the students at W Ross MacDonald School convinced me I want to open a cooking school one day for both children and adults. Maybe
That’ll be my mission after opening a restaurant and publishing my memoir. I never thought of myself as a teacher, but since my philosophy is to always try new things in life, perhaps opening a cooking school is in my destiny.