by Marianna Levine
Initially, Bridgehampton school district’s new Nutrition and Culinary Arts Practicum might seem like just a fancy way of re-packing a Home Economics course, but in fact it is an innovative way to make the science of nutrition come alive for local students, as well as possibly paving the way for the school to create a more cost-effective and healthy lunch program.
Principal Jack Pryor explains that the course answered two important questions that have recently preoccupied the Bridgehampton School namely “How do we make kids more conscious of nutrition?” and “How can our school put together a farm to table program?”
Bridgehampton School, like many area schools, has been challenged by parents and taxpayers to come up with a more nutritious and cost effective lunch program. As was reported several weeks ago, the school’s current lunch program is running at a loss.
Environmental Design teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, who co-created the class with Science Teacher Natalia Nichols, stated, “Our biggest goal is to create a self-sustaining café program.” And this course is one positive step in that direction according to both Pryor and Carmack-Fayyaz.
The Nutrition/Culinary Arts practicum was a natural continuation of the school’s cutting edge environmental design program, which planned and planted the school’s vegetable garden just over a year ago. Carmack-Fayyaz, who originally taught environmental design at the Ross School, was hired by Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Diane Youngblood, in 2006 to teach this program as part of the school’s Long Island Work’s Career Academy, a program designed to prepare students for jobs on Long Island.
The class was started in part out of a concern Carmack-Fayyaz and Nichols had that students weren’t educated about the nutritional value of non-processed foods.
“Both of us really love food and we hope the kids come away from this class with the same love of real food.” Nichols said, and explained that even if the café were to suddenly offer more salads or organic foods, it wouldn’t matter if the students didn’t choose to eat them. Therefore both Carmack-Fayyaz and Nichols want to really challenge their student’s knowledge and taste, hoping the change eventually will be student driven.
To make nutrition and cooking fun and appealing to their students, the teachers have held various Iron Chef competitions, which means four cooking teams must compete in a themed taste-off. The students research recipes and find the ingredients and prepare the food together. Recently they had a battle of the vegetarian and vegan salads, where the students learned the difference between these two non-meat eating diets.
The class mainly creates salads or cold food, as they have limited recourses with which to heat their food. Carmack-Fayyaz opened the door to the large walk-in closet like space which serves as both a mini-green house for the class’s herbs and as well as their prep and heating area. Nichols laughs “We are pretty much limited to assembly cooking.”
“We do need more infrastructure.” Carmack-Fayyaz remarked, and explained that the café’s food manager Dan Pacella from Whitson’s has been very helpful in terms of lending the class pots and pans and an occasional cooking surface. However, she adds the school is constantly looking for ways to get donations of either money or cooking utensils from the community. Using a hot plate or the small stove in the teacher’s lounge is certainly not ideal according to Carmack-Fayyaz. As both teachers say in unison, “this class is an on-going creation” not only of curriculum and recipes, but also in practical cooking and assembly techniques.
In fact, the course has already been given a financial boost that has been very encouraging to the teachers as well as administration. National Grid just awarded the school $9,000 with which to build a green house. Slow Foods of the East End has also donated $1,500 to this end. And recently they also received a $750 Perkins grant for the program.
The class is very popular among students. It mainly serves as a science elective for juniors and seniors in the High School. Student Karen Munoz enjoys that the class is “hands on. In other classes you just read or write about things. Here you actually can do what you learn.” Another student Vedira Bonilla enjoys “learning about nutrition and how to be healthy.’
Currently the class is working on a new competitive project. The four iron chef groups must each plan a balanced menu to present to the school during their annual winter feast on December 23. The whole school will vote on which menu will be prepared and served sometime in January.