This Is Your Brain on Brainfood

Yesterday, I made peach cobbler - with Cristian and his brother, Francisco; their pal, Brandon, Quanisha, LaLa, Herman, Jessica, and at least seven other teenagers in a church kitchen in the District neighborhood of Columbia Heights.

With recipe in hand, the teens measured out dry ingredients for biscuit topping, peeled and chopped fresh ginger and blanched peaches to loosen their skins. They smelled freshly grated nutmeg for the first time and sampled crystallized ginger. As a group, they tasted the filling and agreed that it could use a little lemon to bright up the flavor.

Rather than sleep late and watch television, these kids are spending their summer learning how to shop for food, plan a meal on a budget and cook for others instead. The culinary muse is Brainfood Summer Institute, a project of Brainfood, a non-profit youth development organization, also in Columbia Heights.

Since 1999, Brainfood has been operating an after-school program for students at neighboring Cardozo, Roosevelt and Bell Multicultural high schools; the Summer Institute, now in its third year, continues until Aug. 16.

Program director Kris Woolery tells me that the teens are divided into groups which are given tasks to prepare lunch every day, from recipe research to shopping at the local Giant on a limited budget.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to stick around to taste the fruits of their labor, plus the rest of the meal that was still on the fire (braised collard greens, baked, corn-flake coated tempeh, cornbread and baked chicken), but it was looking like a serious chowfest.

I noticed their teamwork and respect for kitchen etiquette and food safety ('Behind you with a knife' is commonly heard), skills that will take them far should they decide to embark on a career in a commercial kitchen. I am hoping to check in with them next month for a peek at their progress, both as cooks and blossoming citizens.

For background, the Food section wrote about Brainfood's after school program in 2004.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 13, 2006; 1:40 PM ET Culinary Education
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