Last month I had the pleasure of teaching a cooking and baking class for a group of young people involved with the Transit Arts program at my work. (If you’ve never heard of Transit Arts, check them out! They are a fabulous organization that provides a range of artistic opportunities for youth.)
Over the course of five weeks we roasted, chopped, frosted, and whipped our way through some of the basics. But even more importantly we laughed. And experimented. And got to know each other. And made messes almost as big as our imaginations.
Being given the opportunity to teach others gave me a chance to remember, and truly appreciate, all of the wonderful lessons and experiences we gain from working in the kitchen, especially when we work together.
Food has a way of challenging us, doesn’t it? The range of colors, and smells, and textures embolden us. They beg us to be brave. To try something new. To risk the possibility of failure.
And brave we were. On our first night together we made crostinis, which means “little toasts.” They serve as the perfect vehicle for meats, cheeses, veggies, and spreads. With an array of fresh ingredients at our fingertips, we created all kinds of enticing combinations.
Proscuitto with roasted red pepper and provolone. Roasted garlic with mozzarella, tomato, and basil. Pesto, roast beef, and parsley with a smattering of Parmesan cheese. Every creation was different. Every combination a new adventure. And every single one was delicious.
Speaking of bravery, how about tackling homemade pizza dough for the first time? I was more than a little nervous to teach this class, especially considering what a fantastic failure my very first attempt
at pizza dough was.
Turns out, my concerns were unnecessary. These guys were naturals. They kneaded and rolled and patted and barreled right through the frustration of sticky dough. And thankfully, they were rewarded with this absolutely scrumptious pie.
Even more importantly, we experienced the joy of creating something totally from scratch, with nothing more than the power of a few floured hands. That pizza was all the more tasty because we knew exactly how it got there. Of course, that tastiness could also be attributed to the layers and layers of cheese we added, but hey, that’s all part of the pleasure of doing it yourself!
You know what else the kitchen taught us? Resourcefulness.
Like, what do we do with a whole batch of leftover pizza dough?
Why, you turn it into ooey, gooey cinnamon rolls of course!
And how about taking that extra frosting for our cake and thinning it out to use as a bright pink glaze?
Well, my friends, that’s just pure genius.
Despite all the wonderful adventures and lessons learned over these five weeks, I’ve come to realize
this experience was about far more than just conquering our fears of yeast or learning how to measure flour. It was also about learning to share the gift of food with others. It was about learning to pass it on.
You know what really made my little heart sing? When one of my students said her favorite part of the cooking class wasn’t making everything or even eating her own creations. Instead, it was being able to share it with others. It was seeing the look of joy, appreciation, and gratitude on others’ faces as they sampled a delicious treat made by her very own hands.
You see, these young people…they got it. They understood that cooking is not just about the chopping and measuring (as relaxing and therapeutic as that can be). It’s not about the smell of freshly roasted red peppers (though it is quite heavenly).
It’s not even about pulling a perfectly crispy, chewy, cheesy pizza out of the oven (though there is almost no greater thrill I know of).
Instead, it’s about friendships being born over a simple taste test. It’s being able to laugh when cake pops fall off their sticks, and more importantly, being able to try again. It’s about taking pride in your work and sharing it with others. It’s feeding off the energy and creativity flowing around a kitchen island, so the end product is more than just food. It’s heart and soul.
This. This, dear reader, is what I love about cooking. It’s the way food breaks down barriers of race or age or economics or religion and turns strangers into friends. It’s the way cooking makes us grateful. Grateful for the bounty the earth provides, the workers who bring it to us, and the hands that craft it into something delicious. It’s the community we experience when we sit at a table together, everyone delighting and being fed from the same simple meal.
It’s all these simple things. All these powerful things. All the lessons and trials and pleasures and surprises that cooking and eating brings to our lives. My wish for these students and all of you friends is that you’ll find a thread of gratitude, friendship, and celebration woven through the story of your cooking adventures. Because in the end it’s not about making the perfect recipe; it’s about the joy of passing it on.