When famed chef Jamie Oliver came to Pittsburgh last fall to start his 10,000 Tables
program, aimed at getting more families to enjoy the benefits of home-cooked, television-free meals, Bobby Fry, one of the creators of Bar Marco
in the Strip, asked him what local business owners and chefs could do.
"Your role is to inspire and empower people," Oliver answered, as Fry recalls.
"I likened it to the analogy of young musicians inspired by rock stars and taught by their music teachers," Fry says. So he decided: "Somebody in the community had to be supporting schools and school cafeterias."
Fry gathered other local organizations and teamed with Kelsey Weisgerber, food service director at the Environmental Charter School, to start the Cooking School movement. Their goals: "Find a group of kids, give them the tools, knowledge and experience and let them have higher standards for food, and that will change the system" toward healthier school lunches.
The group first approached Pittsburgh Obama 6-12. Fry knew the school had its own kitchen, but he found a dormant home-economics classroom. The group cleaned it, bought each student his or her own carving knife, sharpener and cutting board and brought in 120 cookbooks from Bar Marco's kitchen for them to choose among.
Lots of kids picked breakfast cookbooks, Fry says. "We realized breakfast is a problem for lots of these kids," who have to leave home too early to get it and pass nowhere along the way even worth shopping for breakfast foods.
Fry has been inspired by the level of interest in healthy eating that he found at the school. "I thought I'd have to go in and get the kids excited about cooking. Same with the administration. They were already really on board. Everybody is ready to change school lunches."
"We've got to get them skills here that will get them a job," he adds about the Cooking School effort. "For working in a professional kitchen, all you need to start are the proper cutting skills" -- but those are the hardest skills to master, too.
Now the Cooking School teaches at the Obama school every Tuesday afternoon and brings a new chef every week. The program is being aided by Andrew T. Stephen, assistant professor of business administration and Katz Fellow in Marketing in Pitt's Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, whose MBA students are preparing a video promoting it. Their early work is viewable here
. Kids from other schools can submit proposals for the Cooking School to teach elsewhere. If applicant schools don't have a kitchen, perhaps the program will try to raise money to install one, Fry says.
You can help the Cooking School raise funds for cooking utensils and local produce through crowdrise and a current Facebook fundraiser
Looking for additional ways to find out about local, healthier eating and bring the movement to your community. Check out the programs of Farm to Table Pittsburgh
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Bobby Fry, The Cooking School