To promote student success at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), campus recreation offers the Cooking Well program.
Providing cooking demonstrations in the fully equipped classroom kitchen, the goal is to teach valuable techniques and healthy recipes. “With so much awareness of food insecurity on college campuses, we felt creating this program may help those students who may not be aware of how to prepare healthy food options,” said Valerie Batlle, the Student Recreation Center culinary program coordinator and demonstration chef. “Increasing the health of students can contribute to their success at UCR by increasing their GPAs and keeping them on track to graduate.”
During cooking demonstrations, students learn a variety of skills, depending on the theme of the class. Some of the demonstrations include how to cook vegan and gluten free meals, as well as dorm room foods and guilt-free desserts. “My main goal in these cooking classes is to get students comfortable in the kitchen, to encourage them to get in the kitchen, and to introduce them to new ingredients, flavors, techniques and a few tricks,” said Batlle.
In addition to the themed cooking class demonstrations, Batlle also hosts themed events. These have included family fun night, holiday desserts, Halloween, and even movie or show themed classes such as foods from Harry Potter or burgers from Bob’s Burgers.
While coming up with creative classes is a fun aspect to Batlle’s role, there are many operational aspects to consider before diving into a cooking program.
“I would recommend getting a chef to help plan out the layout of the kitchen and consult with them on what is needed to conduct whatever kind of classes they want to provide,” said Batlle. “Once I was hired on as the program coordinator, I had to make a lot of changes and additions to the new demonstration kitchen – proper storage space and dishwashing system or station is a must. I would also recommend a separate commercial fridge and freezer, double ovens or more, as well as ample counter space.”
As far as the program itself, Batlle emphasized deciding what kind of program to conduct, whether it be demonstrations only, hands-on workshops, team building, food is medicine or just fun recreation classes. “There are so many paths you can take, and each can be very successful,” she said. “The idea of cooking classes at recreation centers is starting to catch. We need to help fight food insecurity and give our students the skills needed to help make healthy food choices.”