A volunteer chef’s experience

By: Jahmal Clemons, Volunteer Chef for Just Cook program

Now that my college friends have abandoned me for the coasts and their post-grad lives, I find myself eating alone a lot more. Though I love to cook, who wants to go through all that hassle for one? When I saw Just Food’s Facebook post seeking amateur cooks to instruct Just Cook, I saw my chance to change that. Here was an opportunity to share my new culinary knowledge and the experience of eating with people.

Confession: I didn’t start cooking for myself until college. It wasn’t until I had my own kitchen with roommates from different countries that I was even interested in touching a stove. Learning to transform food items I was familiar with into dishes I could never have imagined became an adventure for me. While I grew up on chicken fried steak, they introduced me to arroz con pollo or veggie-loaded pho. What I loved most about cooking this way is that it was cheap and delicious! As much as I enjoy eating out, Mass Street was a treat reserved for special occasions (like visiting relatives who would pay). Armed with Pinterest and experience, I was sure I could conquer Just Food’s two-dollar challenge.

Jahmal & Kids

From day one of class, I immediately felt like I had a new family. My class of twelve was a energetic mix of people who wanted to learn. From grandparents and mothers, to curious kids as young as four, everyone brought their appetite. Some were adventurous like me and were already fortifying their staples with vitamin-rich veggies. Others needed a little more prodding. “This tofu looks like Play-Doh” one student commented, “I think this Sriracha is going to burn my tongue,” said one of our most vocal, “What the heck is quinoa?” questioned practically everyone.

But despite whatever any objections, when it came down to start cooking, everyone rolled up their sleeves and got to dicing. Mothers and grandmothers lead the charge, doling instructions on proper food preparation. No matter how different a week’s recipe might have been from their regular fare, they always found a way to share a story. Nobody admitted having experience making empanadas, but almost every adult remembered their mom making bread. For some, the multicolored hues of the Rainbow Stir Fry , conjured up memories of picking green beans in a family garden. It’s amazing how “foreign” dishes bring out the familiar.

Did everyone like everything? Heck no. The aforementioned tofu, despite its sweet and sour preparation, was a particularly hard sell. For some, Meatless Monday will never be a weekly commitment, but even the youngest students asked for seconds of the One-Pot-Pasta. By the last session almost everyone agreed that they tried something new and discovered something they liked. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.

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