The project: Young Chefs (http://youngchefsprogram.org)
Watch my TEDx talk here. As an educator, I aspire to use my scientific knowledge and culinary talents to improve the health and science literacy of the next generation. To put this vision into practice, I co-founded the Young Chefs program while I was a student at Carleton College. What started a weekly afterschool program at the local middle school in Northfield, MN, has now evolved into an international organization teaching cooking and science to underserved youth. Today, Young Chefs is a network of educators, community leaders, and college students working together to bring a unique educational approach to schools across the country and beyond. We develop hands-on cooking science curriculum and either implement it ourselves to diverse programs or support educators to bring it to their classrooms. The curriculum is formatted to Next-Generation science standards and contains a step-by-step instructor guide to the wonderful science of delicious, healthy, and quick foods. Examples include learning about molecular solubility through chili peppers, exploring respiration through Taiwanese steamed buns, understanding chemical reactions through caramelizing onions, and more. In developing the lessons, we work with local communities to adapt the framework to specific needs in science education as well as to particular food traditions, making the curriculum culturally sensitive and engaging.
Partners include: Harvard University (SEAS, Medical School, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Ed Portal), NYC Department of Education, Kitchen Garden Laboratory, Green Bronx Machine, Bill Yosses (former White House Pastry Chef), New Haven Public Schools (CT), Faribault and Northfield public schools (MN), Carleton College, and many more.
The Vision: Cooking as a Catalyst for Scientific Learning
Cooking opens unique opportunities for education in science and health. Our diet is the result of a long trial and error process, of thousands of years testing food ingredients and cooking techniques. While ancient humans only considered appearance and taste in their quest for nutrition and deliciousness, today we can understand food on a molecular level. Today, connecting food and science not only helps us understand why we have grown, prepared, and consumed certain foods in history, but enables us to experience nutrition and scientific concepts and methods in everyday life. When we transform ingredients into food, we can also transform our own lives – as everyday chefs, scientists, and citizens of the world.
More concretely, my educational vision is based on the idea that common food ingredients and cooking processes hide a wealth of scientific concepts; a salad dressing can illustrate the miscibility of liquids; bread can highlight respiration, and popcorn can illustrate the concept of physical changes, to name a few examples. Beyond showing scientific concepts, cooking embodies the scientific method as practiced by scientists; it is a highly experimental process, guided by trial and error. Cooking requires people to make predictions, collect observations, and draw conclusions on the road to discovery. With this in mind, we can make education accessible, engaging, and tasty, inspiring people to find science in their everyday life, no matter what they eat and where they come from.