(05/25/21) NEW ORLEANS — A love for cooking has propelled some New Orleans-area students into the cooking scene of the city where they are getting experience and awards.
A group of fifth through eighth grade students took time from their busy schedules on May 15 to tour the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and taste test some delicious “Big Easy” banana splits.
LSU AgCenter 4-H youth development agent Alisha Okoros aid the group is part of her Orleans Parish 4-H Chef Club.
Okoro said she started a chef club for elementary to junior high students to give her younger members some skills that will be useful in the future.
“Since it’s a little difficult for us to do programming in the schools, I decided to start a chef club to get the students involved,” Okoro said. “Our program is more about education than competition.”
Junior high and high school students in the city are learning skills from cooking nutritious meals to learning about problems caused by water pollution.
The goals of the program are to help the youth learn about and prepare healthy snacks and foods.
Baylon Randall, a fifth-grade student at Alice Harte Elementary School, said his whole family loves to cook and they are well known for cooking so that’s what got him involved.
Baylon said his favorite dish to prepare is parfait. He said it’s easy to make and it’s a great snack.
Ashley Simon, a fifth grader at Clearwood Junior High School said the first time she came to camp was really because she had to come.
“Well, my mom is the 4-H volunteer and I couldn’t stay home alone, so I came and I had a great time and I met some new friends,” Ashley said.
She said she loves to cook and her favorite dish to make is Creole spinach dip.
Okoro said she recruited the kids through the 4-H Facebook page and the parents enrolled them because many of the students were “all Zoomed out” and the parents wanted them to have some in-person interaction.
“This was an opportunity for them to join a club and learn about Orleans Parish 4-H, because a lot of these parents did not even realize that 4-H existed,” she said. “As expected during a pandemic, the numbers were low. We registered 16 kids and, on a monthly basis, we’ve averaged about 10 to 12 kids.”
She said the students followed all of the CDC guidelines for safety during their monthly meetings. This included wearing masks, social distancing and regularly washing their hands.
Okoro asked her friend, Delisa Lloyd, who was a school cafeteria manager in Orleans Parish, if she would be the club leader, and she agreed.
“She loves to cook and has all of the cooking gadgets,” she said. “So she works with the kids during the monthly meetings.”
AgCenter nutrition agent Bertina McGhee said her Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) partnered with 4-H to provide the curriculum for the club, and each of the members graduated from the EFNEP program at the conclusion of the May 15 tour.
Jennie Merrill, the director of education at the Food and Beverage Museum, said she provides weekend classes throughout the school year every other Saturday.
Okoro said she wants the students to learn to make decisions and to take steps that will positively affect their health.
“We’re hoping they will practice a healthy lifestyle and share what they have learned with their families and others,” she said.
New Orleans has had 4-H chef clubs before, but they haven’t been active for a while, so Okoro felt it was time to bring them back.
In addition to the chef club, Okoro is also planning to provide more activities for older age groups.
“I will be doing a healthy living workshop on June 2 for teens 13 to 18 years of age,” she said. “They will be following a curriculum called Teen Cuisine that I’m going to teach along with hands-on cooking.”
She said a faculty member from Delgado will be providing a menu that includes an entrée, a salad and dessert. There will also be a physical activity that will include either yoga or Zumba.
Members of the Orleans Parish Chef Club listen to Jennie Merrill, the director of education at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum during a recent tour and food demonstration. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
Members of the Orleans Parish Chef Club patiently wait for a custom-made banana split during a recent tour and food demonstration at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
Members of the Orleans Parish Chef Club recently graduated from the Orleans Parish Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. Pictured from left are: Bertina McGhee, LSU AgCenter nutrition agent, Alisha Okoro, Orleans Parish 4-H agent, Delisa Lloyd, club leader, Ashley Simon, Sanai Hinton, Jordin Price, Kyree Picot, Cassi Johnson, Jace McGee, Baylon Randall, Eillah Valteau, Lailah Harrison and Asilia Ferdinand. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter