The Gist: I volunteered at Culver City High School as a Guest Chef at their Culinary Arts Class. It was my first time teaching teenagers to cook and it was a blast!
As I looked around the table of students eager to learn how to make tomato-basil bruschetta, the first thing that came to mind was… these kids are huge! I’ve taught my cooking class at elementary schools all over LA where the oldest kids were in 5th grade, but on Thursday, Sep 29th at 8:05 a.m. I was surrounded by teenagers at Culver City High School.
I was a special guest chef that day at their Culinary Arts class…which was amazing to me because I never even had a Culinary Arts class when I was a teen attending high school in Ventura, CA. Their teacher Carolyn Caldwell called me to get some tips on how to teach a cooking class to kids and I offered to help out in her class one morning. As an Eagle Scout, I’ve always enjoyed doing community service, and this was a great way to share my passion for Italian cooking with kids outside my regular after-school cooking class.
As I transported two boxes of cooking equipment through the school, I walked by every clique and high school stereotype under the sun, from jocks to geeks, and knew my cooking class would bring them all together.
The first period of kids arrived and looked at me with surprise, wondering who I was. I greeted them with a friendly “Ciao!” and asked if they were ready to make some food. Their eyes lit up. “We’re gonna eat something?” one of them asked. “Of course!” I said.
This would be their first lesson actually making food, as their classroom was undergoing a deep cleaning and all the stoves and ovens were unavailable for use. Their last lesson involved chopping lots of onions to better their knife skills and the mere thought that they be able to eat something (and not cry) produced palpable excitement.
The Lesson Begins
With a group of 26 kids in each 1-hour period, I divided the class in half so I would two 30-minute lessons. The students quickly cleaned up, put on their aprons and waited next to a cutting board to chop tomatoes. At one point I looked to my left and saw a rather odd sight: one teenager was wearing his leather jacket under his apron! He even rolled up the jacket’s sleeves. “The things teenagers do to look cool,” I thought as I chuckled and reached for a tomato.
We chopped the tomato into bite size chunks and made a flavorful salad by mixing them with torn basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper. I purposefully underseasoned each salad so the students could taste it and learn to adjust the salt and pepper amounts as needed.
Next up I heated up one of my portable electric pans and we toasted slices of baguette with a little olive oil. When they toasted on one side, we rubbed the bread with a raw garlic clove. We then topped each slice of garlic toast with the tomato salad and with a loud “Mangia Bene!” (“Eat Well!”) Took a bite.
I loved hearing the crunch of the bruschetta followed by smiles and “yum!” as the hungry students ate the dish they had just made. As they finished their dish and wiped down the station some of them told me they were going to make the dish that night. I was very proud of them.
More and more kids
Soon the next group arrived at the table, even more eager to cook after watching their classmates chow down. In 30 minutes, we were done and after two more periods of class it was 11:30 a.m. and I had already taught over 70 kids how to make tomato-basil bruschetta! Exhausted, I cleaned up and headed out, as I had a cooking class to teach that afternoon at St. Martin of Tours elementary school where we’d be making homemade fettucine pasta tossed in fresh basil pesto.
Overall, I loved seeing how making bruschetta brought teenagers from all walks of life together in the name of good, healthy food. Cooking truly is a universal activity that everyone can enjoy whether you’re a jock, nerd, cheerleader, goth or cool guy in a leather jacket.