I kind of saved the best for near the last. I remember a conversation I had, with what seems like many moons ago with Chef Rick Martin. Rick is the former Executive Chef of Free State Brewery. Chances are, if you enjoy their food, you've eaten one of Rick's delectable dishes. He's the current culinary arts director at Eudora High School. What he's done with that program is second to none. They recently won an award that will bring some great recognition to what Rick has done there.
There are a few people you meet in your life where you have kindred goals, and like-mindedness. Rick and I hit it off immediately. The things that have happened at Just Food for the last few years have been because the right people have shown up at the right time. And Rick was right on time.
Rick has a passion to teach people how to cook - to understand that vegetables, fruits and other foods that may have perceptions about being too expensive and bad to taste, are actually cheaper and taste better than many other things that we put into our bodies.
Rick began to talk about what a class could look like, and I was enamored. With his passion, how forward thinking he was, and what a difference I knew these classes were going to make.
We began to sign students up for these classes after a three week pilot program last summer. To qualify, students had to be clients of Just Food and have a desire to learn how to cook. We bought portable cooking stations, with pots and pans, some utensils and bowls and a butane burner. We have 4 stations.
Through these classes, students have learned:
-Basic Kitchen Skills -Healthy Ethnic Foods -Recipe Makeover -Vegetables
Students have cooked delectable dishes such as red beans and rice with homemade pico de gallo, homemade chicken noodle soup from scratch, mac and cheese au gratin, spaghetti carbonara with pork ragout and cilantro salad and coconut curry chicken with white jasmine rice.
My favorite comment from one of the students in the class was when they said, "I feel like I'm eating rich people food." The categories that begin to define our society around something as simple and necessary as food are incredible...all because of many times unreal perceptions that govern our thought processes.
Here are some staggering numbers:
At the beginning of these classes, 75% of students indicated they ate fast food or processed food at least 4 times per week. By the end of the class, only 25% of students indicated they were eating fast food or processed food at least 4 times per week.
At the beginning of the class, 90% of students indicated they would rather eat out of a box than make a homemade meal. At the end of the class, 90% of students indicated they would rather make a meal from scratch than eat out of a box.
After the classes were over, 98% of students indicated they would be making healthier choices at the grocery store from now on.
And my personal favorite.
After the classes, 25% of our students said that, with the money they learned how to save by eating in instead of eating out, they would no longer need to get food from Just Food on a regular basis anymore. When Chef is teaching you how to make a meal for $1.50 a serving, and you can feed your family of three for $5 and eat leftovers for two days, rather than going and spending $15 on fast food for one meal...that money starts to add up. And fast.
These classes have empowered people. They have encouraged people. And they've had intangible benefits. During the first pilot class, we had a lady break down crying in our lobby. I asked her what was wrong and she said, as we were eating the food she'd just made, that it had been a long time since someone had told her that she had done anything right.
Stop and thinking about that a moment. And then a story that I heard just yesterday that blew me away.
One of the students in the class said that this had taught her that food is something that brings people together around a table. I heard her say that this reinvigorated her sense of being at the table and inviting others there as well.
It isn't JUST FOOD...
It's pretty incredible if you think about it. More is coming with these classes, and we're going to continue to build and build them until we can get as many students as they want to be involved with these. They are vitally important and making a HUGE difference.
Rick Martin is a hero. To me, and to so many, for what he has taught folks that have revolutionized their eating habits, their families lifestyles, and he has not only helped people understand the way to a better life, but for some, broken the curse that has cycled for generations and generations. Rick, from the bottom of my heart and for all those you've helped and will help. Thank you.