One part ambition, two parts learning and a dash of expertise to lead the way. That is the recipe for students taking part in The HUB’s newest after-school class, Chef Cooking Series for Youth, featuring four South Whidbey chefs.
It’s a new activity for The HUB, an after-school hangout for youths between sixth to 12th grades on the South End. The series brings chefs from around South Whidbey to show students their potential in cooking.
HUB Program Manager Frankie Petitclerc said she started the culinary course this year because she thought cooking was an important skill for students to learn.
“Everyone needs to know how to cook in life,” she said. “It gives them confidence. Some kids go home and don’t know how to make food.”
The program gathered the talents of four chefs on South Whidbey: Gerry Woolery of Gerry’s Kitchen, Vincent Nattress of Cultivar, Gordon Stewart Jr. of Gordon’s on Blueberry Hill and John Auburn of JW Desserts.
In the upcoming weeks, the lessons will cover how to make chicken, pasta, pizza and a dessert. The series began March 4 and continues on Tuesdays through March 25.
The series kicked off with Woolery, a chef at his restaurant. Students learned to roast, fry and make broth and stock with chicken in the home economics classroom at Langley Middle School. For some students, it was their first time handling a chicken, but others were seasoned regulars.
Joseph Vechnak, 11, broke chicken bones for his first time.
“I like cooking,” he said. “But I haven’t made chicken before, and I’m excited to learn.”
Eight students listened to Woolery as he demonstrated his techniques to dice up a chicken into cookable parts.
“The most dangerous thing in a kitchen is a dull knife,” Woolery said as he cut through the chicken to reach a joint.
Tyler Clark, 17, easily found the places to cut and break the chicken bone that Woolery showed. For Tyler, the class was a way to practice some of his established cooking skills.
“I’m kinda into cooking and thought it would be fun to make something new,” he added.
Woolery thought he had some useful information for students to learn, after cooking for more than 50 years. He wanted to pass that knowledge on, especially how to save money.
Woolery wanted students to learn how to take apart a chicken to save money in the future. A chicken breast cut off from chicken at home is about $1 per pound, but at the supermarket it can be up to $5 a pound.
“Someday they’ll be in college, out on their own and hungry. This is a good way to feed yourself,” he said. “We used everything.”
Woolery was excited to see the students get involved with their meals. Each had a different take from the lesson, he said. One student was fascinated with the skeleton of the chicken and asked to take it home to study, he said.
“They broke it down as well as I did the first time,” he said.
“Someday somebody is going to put a whole chicken in front of these kids, and I want them to say, ‘Yeah, I can cook that,’” he said. “That was the whole idea of the class, not to be intimidated.”
Providing the chance to experience new things is what the HUB strives for with its students. The program supplies one meal a day for students after school and relies on help from donations, fundraising, grants and volunteers.
The series marks a resurgence for the program, which reopened in 2012 after a four-month closure. Since reopening, the program is back to providing a place for teenagers five days a week. Last month the HUB averaged about 25 students a day, nearing its high of 38 students.
“We try as best as we can to give as many opportunities as we can,” Petitclerc said.
Spots for the cooking series are still available. For more information about the program, contact Frankie Petitclerc at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-221-0969. Cost is $10 per class, and scholarships are also available.