Homer’s youth resource and enrichment co-op, known locally as “The R.E.C. Room,” is giving teens a taste of what it’s like to work in a commercial kitchen.
The after school youth-outreach program has been holding FORK Club Cooking Classes for the last few months providing kids tips on using healthy, local ingredients.
It falls in line with the program’s core mission of empowering teens through health education. Organizers hope the classes will be a gateway to a job, or at least a way to help put dinner on the table for their families.
A group of seven kids is paying close attention to Megan Palma as she starts explaining the best way to cut a tomato. They’re standing around a covered pool table at the Alibi in downtown Homer, which is serving as a make-shift classroom for the evening. Megan is owner of Alibi a la Carte. She said having students come work with her was a natural pairing since she’s an advisor for the REC Room. She and her pupils are doing the prep work for the restaurant’s halibut tacos.
Megan was focused on safety. She was surrounded by a small group of 12 to 15 year olds who probably don’t interact with kitchen knives on a daily basis like she does. But her students are handling themselves well. At least until they got to the onions.
Ultimately, everyone was able to fight through their watering eyes and move on to the fresh lime juice and garlic. Finally Megan talked cilantro.
But this is only the prep work for the main event. Megan took the kids into the kitchen two-by-two to pan-sear the halibut and warm up tortillas. Danielle Couch and Ian Brant were first up.
In no time at all, the halibut is cooked to perfection and Danielle and Ian were both headed back to their prep areas. They added the guacamole, pico de gallo, red cabbage and Megan’s Baja sauce.
It’s safe to say Danielle’s favorite part of the evening was eating the taco. Ian had a different take.
“I thought the salsa was pretty good. And especially the avocado because you could actually put your hands in and start to mix it; it got all messy,” he said.
Ian also mentioned he thought he did a nice job with the knife considering he’s only just starting out. And he said while he doesn’t see cooking as his future profession, he wouldn’t mind making it his passion.
“I always tell my mom I want the third-biggest room in my house to be the kitchen because I like to cook; then my bedroom, then the living room. I don’t want it to be my job, but I want it to be my second hobby, I guess,” he said.
Both Ian and Danielle said they’d like to see more kids show up for the next class because they had so much fun. And Megan had a good experience, too. She said she’s happy with everyone’s performance, especially when you take their ages into account.
“At first they were a little squirrely, but… I was amazed at how quickly their skills developed just in one day,” she said.
Megan said she also likes the fact that her students learned and completed a recipe from start to finish.
“Even if they do cook at home, they’re still just assembling already prepared food. So I think it’s nice for them to see as much as we could do it in two hours,” she said.
And I have to say, after watching these kids make the prep work look so easy, I’m not sure what my excuse is for not doing this more often at home.