Amanda Kirsch's blog

Learning the Brainfood Way

Asia Love is currently interning at Brainfood through the DC Career Connections program. Asia wrote the following reflection after her first experience in a Kitchen All Stars class. 

When I first heard about Brainfood I thought of eating healthy. I didn’t expect Brainfood to be much more.

My interview at Brainfood left me enthusiastic and eager to see the ins and outs of the program. My first day wasn’t just a typical first day at a new job; I got the chance to learn something new, meet new people, and eat a nice meal prepared by Brainfood’s youth participants.

Staff Favorites at Brainfood

The wonderful thing about the Brainfood family is that it is ever growing. Every youth participant, volunteer, staffer, Board member, Guest Chef, and community supporter who has ever walked through Brainfood’s doors (literally or figuratively) remains part of the family. Yet each new face is welcomed with undiluted excitement.

The same could be said for recipes, curriculum, and activities in Brainfood programs. Some recipes have been staples in our first-year Kitchen All Stars program since its inception, while we continue to experiment every year with new additions. Returning participants in our Community MVPs program are seasoned veterans when it comes to dicing an onion “the Brainfood way,” but they consistently take on challenges and work to present new healthy cooking workshops throughout the city.

In the spirit of celebrating both the tried-and-true and the yet-to-be-discovered gem, I recently asked our Brainfood instructors to recount their favorite Brainfood class to teach, sharing what makes it special, in addition to a favorite Brainfood recipe or two. Here’s what they had to say:

Kitchen All Stars Celebrate the Holiday Season

Last Wednesday, in a hall decked out for the occasion, Kitchen All Stars participants all gathered together for our annual Holiday Celebration. Alongside friends, family, Weekly Classroom Assistants, special event volunteers, and Brainfood staffers, students celebrated ten weeks’ worth of accomplishments at Brainfood.

Just over two months ago, these same teens gathered in our Brainfood kitchens for the first time; they spent their first class learning how to measure wet and dry ingredients in order to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Now they have whisked, diced, and simmered their way into creating a delicious, festive meal that served over 100 participants and enthusiastic supporters.


The menu, decided by a student vote, included a vegan three-bean chili, green bean casserole, cheddar biscuits (the crowd favorite), crustless quiche, apple crumble, and pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. 

There's No Stopping Our Kitchen All Stars

Two weeks ago, over 100 students from fourteen different DC high schools gathered in our three Brainfood kitchens across the city, eager to meet new people and explore all aspects of food and cooking. Some are returners—teens who have been with Brainfood for two, three, four, or even five programs over the course of their high school careers. Some are just entering our kitchens for the first time.

Students in our first-year program, Kitchen All Stars, represent a variety of levels of experience in the kitchen. However, all of our first-year participants can now say they have an ongoing list of kitchen knowledge under their belts. After just three Brainfood classes, Kitchen All Stars have encountered at least 33 different ingredients and over 33 different pieces of kitchen equipment. And we’ve only just begun our introductory baking unit.

From A to Z, check out the ingredients and tools that have already made an appearance or two in Kitchen All Stars:

If Julie Andrews Were in High School Musical: A School Recruitment Update

Well, here we are: the calendar page has been flipped, and the air—while still humid—offers a soft breeze to remind us that fall is around the corner. September means it’s time, once again, for school recruitment. Brainfood staffers have been transitioning from summer programs to preparing for the new school year. But there’s still one very important piece missing… teen participants! These next couple weeks we’ll be visiting high school lunchrooms and after school fairs throughout the city, sharing information about Brainfood programs and handing out applications to interested students. It’s a fast-paced and exciting time of year.

So in both complete seriousness and silliness, here’s a list of our favorite things about recruiting in DC high schools:

1. An obvious but oh-so-genuine favorite is sharing in new students’ excitement and curiosity about

'How to Read a Recipe' To Chef's Challenge: A Year at Brainfood

Those of us who are Brainfood program staffers have been navigating some serious empty nest syndrome over the past few weeks. It seems like just yesterday we took our first Costco trip of the year, and now many of our teen participants are studying for final exams, heading off to college orientations, and/or preparing for summer jobs.
First Costco shop of the year!
The month of May was a whirlwind as one of our afterschool programs, Kitchen All Stars, came to a close for the year with a festive graduation celebration and an abundance of tasty food. After the streamers fell and the last dishes were washed and returned to storage, we found ourselves with quiet kitchens and an opportunity to take a step back and reflect on the year behind us. It’s hard to believe how much our teens have grown, both as individuals and cohorts, since they entered Brainfood’s doors last fall. They have so many accomplishments to be proud of, and we as their instructors are proud to share them with you.

Wontons, Pickles, and More: Guest Chefs in the Kitchen!

Kitchen All Stars participants have been hard at work all year advancing their cooking prowess, building healthy group dynamics with their classmates, and developing leadership skills. As we approach the final weeks of afterschool programming, it’s the perfect time to bring in culinary professionals who graciously offer their time and skills to further our teens’ exposure to new foods and cooking techniques.

Last week, participants at our Columbia Heights site hosted two engaging Guest Chefs. We are thankful for Chefs Ztang Ruangsangwatana of DC Noodles and Yi Wah and Caitlin Roberts of Number 1 Sons for their fun and informative workshops!

Share in our fun, and check out these great action shots from last week’s classes! Stay tuned for more updates from additional guest chef visits on our blog and social media in the coming weeks...

Chef Ztang demonstrating knife skills


5 Grocery Shopping Hacks I've Learned at Brainfood

As a youth worker, my job is not primarily about food or cooking. However, grocery shopping perpetually occupies a line on my to-do list. As is the case for many of us at home, groceries do not magically appear in our Brainfood refrigerators and pantries prior to class.
Grocery shopping is one of the unassuming tasks that keeps Brainfood programs running, and, while it’s a necessary undertaking, we have many other things to keep us busy. That is why we Brainfood teachers are motivated to be proficient grocery shoppers.
In a blog post last month, a fellow Brainfood staffer wrote about kitchen tips and tricks she’s picked up while teaching at Brainfood. Here, I am going to share 5 pointers I’ve learned at Brainfood for an efficient grocery shop. If you are like us, shopping on a budget and limited time, these tips might be helpful for you too!

Gathering Around the Table, the Brainfood Way

Although we encourage exploration and creativity in all of our Brainfood kitchens, our classes are designed with a consistent structure. Brainfood participants arrive knowing that the whiteboard displaying the day’s agenda can answer their often-foremost question (“What are we making today?”) as well as provide the order of events for our time together.
Each Brainfood class starts with an opening—a time for everyone in the room to welcome and check-in with one another, as well as designate an expectation/goal for themselves for the day. We then transition to a period of information sharing. This is a time for instructors to engage participants in a lesson (“Let’s talk about how yeast works.”) or demonstrate a new skill relevant for that day’s recipes (“Today we’re learning how to cut chicken wings!”).

The Inside Perspective: Youth Reflections

The youth in our programs are at the heart of what we do at Brainfood. We Brainfood instructors have the privilege to engage with teen participants on a daily basis. Those of you who support us in various ways may have the same privilege of interacting with our amazing young people if you serve as a Weekly Classroom Assistant or attend our community events. However, some of you may not have had the chance to meet our participants, so I decided to dedicate this space to youth voices and give you all an insider's perspective!

This week's blog post features six of our many enthusiastic first-year Kitchen All Stars participants. Each readily shared with me their unique perspective on what brought them to Brainfood in the first place and what motivates them to continue to invest in our program.

Photo of AsiaAsia

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