Finding One’s Spark in the Kitchen

This blog post is a guest post from our Rexan Dayao, a fellow with the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative who is working with us at Brainfood this month. Rexan shares his impressions from his first day at Brainfood Kitchen All Stars!

It has been a long day for youth who have spent hours studying at  their respective schools. Yet, instead of heading towards home or to do other things, they have opted to participate in Brainfood’s Kitchen All Stars. It is a year-long program (October - May) that introduces participants to life skills and leadership skills through food and cooking. Participants have the opportunity to learn about food, nutrition, cooking, and jobs in the food industry through activities, games, restaurant visits, cooking in our kitchen, and working with guest chefs.
On the first day of Brainfood Kitchen All Stars, participants started coming in around 3 pm. 

They signed in and handed in waivers and permission slips. Some eagerly asked Amanda, Brainfood staff member and instructor of Kitchen All Stars at Columbia Heights,  about what is on the menu for the day. Most were just quiet, probably trying to find opportunities to connect with individuals they just met. There were 18 youth, 2 volunteers and myself, an intern from Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).
Amanda started the session by asking participants to introduce themselves, followed by an icebreaker game which helped to release their inhibitions. Each one was also asked to create a Group Expectation. Then each participant picked one goal to focus on for the day, which intends to make sure that everyone will participate diligently. In addition to the list of Group Expectations created by the students, we also have the “Brainfood No-Brainer” which lists things that they should not do while in the kitchen in order to keep all students safe  
At 4:30 pm, Amanda handed them the recipes and the participants started measuring ingredients. At some points in the process, the youth were not sure what to do next, which ingredients needed to be measured, how much, and how many. They were confronted with lots of questions and they needed to make  decisions quickly so that the cookies would be in the oven by 5 pm.
By observing their actions I saw that they were encouraged to communicate with each other because they need to work together. So those who were shy at first forgot their shyness and tried working with the rest of the group. Somebody lead the group while the rest acted as the support system. There was no one student who was directing their actions, rather,  it was each and every one of them who were proactive in making decisions and eventually performing the tasks needed. The volunteers, Will and Lisa, were a good source of support to our newbies by helping them clean up and even trying to figure out measurements and looking for ingredients.

Participants were wary at first because their cookies didn’t look the way they’d like them to. They collaborated with each other and were able to come up with better looking cookies. Then, by 5 pm, all cookies were in the oven. In few minutes, the smell of the cookies was really enticing. It was hard to ignore the aroma and the youth expressed eagerness to eat them .

By 5:30, participants started putting the cookies on a serving plate. They too were surprised to see the fruits of their labor. It really looked good! And when they had the opportunity to taste it, everyone painted a smile on their face as if saying,  “I did a good job today!”
There were lots of sparks that happened that day. Like when Maya started telling stories about her family, when Will shared his reasons why he does this volunteer work,and even when cookies were deformed and group at one table started to fix it and made it better.
One thing is sure, that when you participate in Kitchen All Stars, you’ll get to discover many sparks, including the spark in you!


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