The program teaches emerging chefs about food justice and culinary skills

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HARRISONBURG, Va. — For a culinary summer program at a local high school, there can never be too many cooks in the kitchen.

On the Road Collaborative, a nonprofit after-school and summer enrichment program—aimed at closing the “achievement gap” for disadvantaged students—offers a career and technical training summer program in the culinary arts.

Groups of middle and high school students meet daily with specialist On the Road instructors to learn kitchen safety, cooking skills and they also learn about “food justice” – the desire to create a fair system of food. supply of food and labor in industry.

“Students learn about labor and food waste, as well as food supply and food systems,” said Emerging Chefs Program Specialist Kristen Grimshaw. “(They learn) about climate change and how the food system relates to climate change and things like how workers are treated within the food system, so wages and equity.”

Each day of the program, the students prepare a meal together which they eat for lunch.

“We cook an amazing (mix) of things and they taste really good,” said Aron Medhin, a sophomore at Harrisonburg High School. “It’s also very creative.”

One day, the students prepared a Mediterranean-themed meal, with falafel, a vegetarian dish made with chickpeas, chopped vegetables and yogurt and chicken salad prepared with a mixture of spices.

“(I like to cook) maybe like vegan stuff, but all the new dishes are really fun to do, because they’re new experiences,” Medhin said.

Dividing up the work to make the meal, each student – ​​like the cooks in a restaurant kitchen – had a specific task to accomplish. Like bees in a hive, students swerved around the kitchen classroom space within Harrisonburg High School.

“There’s a recipe and each of us has a task and we just read the recipe,” said Dennis Duarte, a rising HHS senior in the Emerging Chefs program.

Some students chopped vegetables for yogurt sauce, others cleaned chicken pieces and others mixed spices for falafel.

During the week, students go on field trips, such as a scavenger hunt at the Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market.

One of On the Road’s first programs – established more than seven years ago – Natalie Aleman, a rising junior at Harrisonburg High School, said she’s been involved in the Emerging Chefs program since she was in fifth grade. year.

“It’s different now. I used to, I thought about becoming a little chef, owning a little (restaurant,) getting a lot of experience in it,” Aleman said. “Since joining a program called JROTC, it has brought me more into the military.”

All On the Road programs are educational in nature. Children can enroll in extended programs that run after school for weeks, according to On the Road president and Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed.

“It’s one of our core programs,” Reed said. “It was one of our first career enrichments and our most popular.”

William Gutierez, a freshman at HHS, is in the program because he’s an aspiring chef.

“What I want to do for the future is I want to save money for a food truck. And then when I have a food truck, I’m going to save for a restaurant and own a restaurant,” said Gutierrez said.

Not just a program for students who want to become career chefs, many students, like HHS freshman Samuel Abebe, said they just want to learn how to cook for themselves and their families.

“I just want to cook,” Abebe said.

“A lot of these kids, they brought it home,” Reed said. “This program gives them the skills to be independent.”

Ryan H. Bowman