Chef Brittany Garcia grabs her spatula and announces to her class:
“All right, we are sautéing!”
Two cameras capture every move as the Green Run High School teacher prepares quinoa inside her kitchen. Her culinary arts students are also showing off their cooking skills via Zoom. The healthy grain pops and crackles in their skillets.
“Things are going to start sticking to the pan,” Garcia says. “It’s OK, because we’re making fried rice. We actually want to that to happen a little bit.”
During a pause in the action, students discuss healthy eating with two guest presenters from the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.
“What are some ways you can practice mindful eating this week?” asks Meaghan Butler, a registered dietician with the Foodbank’s Nourishing Our Neighbors initiative.
“Eat in smaller portions,” student Jade Mitchell says.
“Establish a set eating plan through the day,” student Brandon Zobel adds.
In the past, the Foodbank has partnered with Green Run for pop-up farmers markets in the school’s parking lot. But this is the first time the nonprofit has worked with a local high school for live, online lessons that combine cooking and nutrition, Butler said.
“It’s just one of the ways COVID-19 has forced us to innovate and continue to engage students as they participate in virtual learning,” said Butler, adding that the stress of the pandemic has made it more challenging to make healthy choices.
Garcia said the online lessons have been a great way to open up with students.
In Zoom’s breakout rooms, students who were once too shy to speak up in class are now turning their cameras on and speaking with their peers. And now that Garcia has been invited inside her students’ homes virtually – and they get a peek inside her kitchen – it’s created a special bond.
“Trust is a big thing,” Garcia said. “Being able to open up and comfortable turning on their cameras is a big win.”
Students voted on what they wanted to prepare during the lessons. In addition to quinoa, they made black bean and corn salsa. Garcia and the Foodbank worked with a grocery service that delivered ingredients to students’ doorsteps, thanks to federal funding from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
“A major goal of this program is not just to feed individuals, but to nourish them and their families,” said Butler, who co-leads the effort with Candace Weather, the Foodbank’s regional outreach coordinator.
Green Run Administrative Assistant Bridgette Berthold said Garcia is very passionate not only about being a chef and catering teacher but also about educating students on healthy habits, which goes hand in hand with cooking.
“It has been an amazing experience to see how the Foodbank and Green Run’s partnership continues to evolve and become stronger,” Berthold said. “Despite the restrictions that the pandemic has put on our students and logistical efforts, we have overcome the challenges and turned the restraints into positive outcomes that have provided more opportunities for our students.”
Garcia’s class is advanced culinary arts, and many of the students have been learning together for two years now. Senior Brandon Zobel enrolled so he could learn how to cook meals that help him maintain his ideal wrestling weight.
He credits Garcia with keeping the online lessons interesting.
“I love the whole thing she has going on,” he said. “A lot of students, at first, they weren’t up for the whole cooking-at-home thing. But then they started looking at all of us cooking and they said, ‘Wait they’re having fun, and I want to eat some food.’ ”
Ah yes, the food. That’s where and when all the hard work pays off. At the end of class, Garcia invites everyone to lift up their quinoa dishes to the camera. Students nod in approval as steam rises from their bowls.
“Now all that we have left to do is taste,” Garcia says. “And there we have it, guys! Your dishes look great!”