I was at Target and it felt like returning to an old friend. I was in the kitchen aisle staring at my most important piece of cooking equipment of all time. This machine is the key element for the thousands of culinary workshops that LIFT Enrichment has been teaching for the past 11 years: the 16” electric hot skillet
It was the weekend before my FIRST in-person culinary workshop in 1.5 years and I was making sure my supplies and ingredients were ready to go. On Monday, I had workshops to teach at Anthem Prep Academy, a charter school in Arizona.
The lesson featured our most FAVORITE recipe of all-time: Pasta Primavera. “Primavera” means “Spring” and it’s a dish made of pasta (I like Farfalle or “butterfly” noodles) with a variety of vegetables like zucchini, bell pepper, onions and peas. We’ve taught this recipe to over 20,000 students since 2010, and it’s our go-to recipe because it gets kids to eat pasta that also has two full servings of veggies!
These workshops were for middle schoolers part of a special “leadership” program. As I walked on campus, a group of adorable 1st graders smiled and waved at me, as I’m sure they’re not used to seeing a chef in a white coat. They probably knew good food was going to be made in the near future.
As the class began I went over our 5 culinary rules. These rules are actually VERY important cooking techniques that they can use the rest of their lives to safely, efficiently and, in a very clean way, cook a meal. They are so key that adults can benefit from using these rules (I’ll write about them in future posts!)
Next we started chopping, using metal dinner knives, as I showed them how to tuck their fingers to ensure they can safely chop the produce.
Another tip I demonstrated is a trick to peel garlic by smashing it with the back of a knife so the outside comes off easily.
Next we talked about Vitamin A, C and K that are all found in Zucchini and other vegetables. The students chopped and we sauted the vegetables together, using olive oil and flour to make a “rue” that would create a sauce that was light, flavorful and delicious. (Most restaurants make Pasta Priamvera with heavy cream, which adds lots of fat and calories, but mine has a special twist using vegetable stock and freshly grated Parmesan)
As they ate the pasta dish they had worked hard on making I heard shouts of “This is good!” and “I’m gonna make this at home!”
And guess what?
They made it at home! I gave them a copy of the recipe and heard back from my contact at the school they had made this pasta dish for their families. Parents were impressed and we’ll be back in January for more workshops.
One And A Half Years In The Making
Compare this moment to March 2020, when we taught our last in-person culinary workshop. In February 2020, we were teaching 2,000 students a week at over 160 schools in Southern California, from Los Angeles to San Diego.
I felt land-locked to California, as we were only able to hire and train local Chef teachers to service the clients. But that would change soon!
When the Pandemic hit, schools closed and the word on the street was that this would only be for a month or two. As we all know, this continued for the rest of the school year, summer and the following Fall session.
LIFT Enrichment pivoted to virtual culinary workshops (which you can experience! Just go to www.liftenrichment.com and you’ll see our upcoming Winter 2022 session) and that opened up new possibilities.
We could teach anyone in any state!
Parents could experience the cooking class WITH their kids in the comfort of their living room.
Plus, students liked that they got to cook the entire meal from start to finish, as opposed to just doing one part of a group lesson.
It was also fun to have access to an entire kitchen with a real stove and oven. I could get more creative with the lessons.
In the Summer of 2020, thanks to a key partnership with another enrichment vendor, we taught over 300 hours of virtual culinary workshops! We even taught kids in Guam (who would have thought that was possible?)
But as much as I loved making amazing dishes and desserts like Shepherd pie, Latkes, stir fries, ginger bread houses, cream puffs and more…I missed something.
It felt kinda isolating cooking at home…even if all the students were online.
Sure, my neighbors loved having the extra food to enjoy (and they got plenty of samples!), but I’m an extrovert by nature and being on the computer and zooming all day was straining my eyes and my well-being.
Teaching Kids In The Real World
Fast forward to November 2021 and I was doing what I do best: leading a lesson surrounded by a group of upbeat students ready to absorb some culinary knowledge.
The flow of a cooking class is only as good as your prep and execution. My “mise en plas” (meaning “everything in place”) is top notch and I’ve taught the Primavera lesson so many times that I can almost teach it with my eyes closed and hands tied behind my back.
This allows me to focus on the students and the most important part: class management.
Anyone can teach 1 or 2 kids a cooking class in the privacy of their home, but how do you keep students focused when there are 20 of them looking at you for direction!
Fortunately, this group at Anthem Prep, was a breeze. They listened well and did exactly as instructed.
The funniest part was how they sat around my table. On my left were all of the boys and to my right right were all of the girls. Oh middle school 🙂
After that Monday, I met my friend Thanasi for a celebratory dinner! I was jazzed with the success of the lessons.
The next day, I got on a plane and flew to Los Angeles (my previous home of 17 years) to teach more in-person workshops at one of my oldest clients: Village School in Pacific Palisades.
Coach Hicks, their P.E. teacher, brought me in as a special activity to make (you guessed it!) Pasta Primavera for grades 4th, 6th and 2nd. On Wednesday morning, the workshops begun, went incredibly well and I was on the plane home that afternoon with a skip in my step.
The following week I was in San Diego Tuesday-Friday teaching 120+ students at Keiller Leadership Academy the Pasta Primavera lesson and our go-to second class: Black Bean & Spinach Quesadilla with Fresh Pico de Gallo.
Some comments from the kids included “I can’t even taste the spinach!” “I don’t usually eat black beans, but this is good” and “This is better than I expected!”
While I was in beautiful San Diego, I closed a new charter school client and had a great lunch with some other education vendors.
(Cool spots for SD foodies: Crack Shack (also in Century City, Los Angeles) for the best crispy chicken sandwich and fries ever and C Level Lounge (for stunning views of the bay and delicious lobster BLTs)
This week, thankfully, I’m in Scottsdale catching up on work and wrapping up new workshops to teach next year.
We have one proposal to teach over 800 students at 21 sites for a BIG school district in California. As my business coach would say, those are the home runs, but it’s good to keep up the singles and doubles along the way.
And that is my focus for 2022: Cooking up BIG results and getting back to the magic place: teaching cooking classes in-person.
But we can now teach in ANY state! We can ship out the culinary supplies using Amazon. Then ship out the ingredients using Amazon fresh. And lastly, we fly out myself and my Chef teachers so they can teach on-site.
It’s an exciting model (and a good excuse to travel!)
If you’d like to bring our health culinary workshops to your school, so students can learn culinary fundamentals, nutrition, science AND develop skills that will last a lifetime so they can make better food choices reach out to my email (Eric@liftenrichment.com) or book a spot on my calendar