Cuisine project spoons up new flavors to Clark’s littlest penguins
Last spring, Clark’s Chef Aaron Guerra was in a bind.
The Clark professor needed a challenging year-end project for his culinary students. But the campus café, where he usually sent his students to work practicing their kitchen skills, was shuttered because of the pandemic. Other organizations Guerra had partnered with in the past, including a local veteran’s center, were closed, too.
He looked around Clark and noticed the Child and Family Studies program was still providing child care. And those kids had to eat.
“I reached out to them about some kind of collaboration,” Guerra said.
Guerra studied the stringent U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for children’s meals. To be USDA compliant, meals must include each food group and contain certain amounts of fat and protein. The meals can’t have much sugar or contain highly allergenic ingredients such as peanuts.
Based on those guidelines, students were tasked with creating USDA-compliant breakfast and lunch menus covering 30 days for each age group at the Oliva Family Early Learning Center: up to age 3,ages 3 to 5 and ages 5 to 12.The culinary students wrote recipes, checked for USDA compliance and priced the ingredients.
The menus included kid-friendly versions of foods from all over the world—a curry that wasn’t too spicy, for example.
“Each group went to the kitchen and cooked a breakfast or lunch for each age group. And then the really fun part was, we got to feed the kids and hang out in the classroom while they ate,” Guerra said.
The children offered feedback. One exclaimed that the culinary students’ version of French toast was “even better than Coco Puffs!”
The project was funded in part by a $6,500 donation from Rotary Club of Three Creeks. Guerra had volunteered to help the club plan a fundraising event based on the Food Network show, “Chopped.” The event raised more than $50,000 to help area kids and combat hunger. To thank Guerra, the organization donated $6,500 toward his year-end Clark project.
Guerra said the initiative was so successful that he plans to do a scaled-down version of it this year, even though he expects to have opportunities to cook for regular customers, too.
“The change in perspective was really valuable,” he said. “It was a good reminder that we’re trying to feed the people, and that includes everyone from a 3-year-old to a 93-year-old.”
Lily Raff McCaulou is a journalist whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic and Rolling Stone. Visit her at www.lilyrm.com