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Young Charlottesville Chefs Get a New Culinary-Grade Kitchen - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Young Charlottesville Chefs Get a New Culinary-Grade Kitchen

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A Charlottesville organization that teaches kids to make healthy meals is expanding. Now, young up-and-coming chefs are getting a new culinary-grade kitchen.

It's a project the PB&J Fund has had in the works for about a year. Instead of the staff going to partner organizations to meet with the kids, the kids can come to them and cook in a professional kitchen.

"They're now coming into our kitchen and learning to cook in a more concise, productive way because the kitchen is definitely designed for kids," said program director Alicia Cost.

Cost said they took ideas from the partner kitchens they've worked in, like ones at Buford Middle School and the Boys and Girls Club, and came up with things they liked and didn't like for their own kitchen.

"We've made it institutional to be healthy and safe, but also kid friendly," she said. "It's organized in such a way that they know what they need to do and it helps the flow and the learning environment."

The students are learning knife skills, culinary skills, and even math along the way.

"What we try to do is introduce the idea between measuring cups and teaspoons, using liquid measures versus dry measures, how to add one-fourth to make three-fourth cups, so trying to introduce different measurements to the cooking process," said Courtenay Evans, a chef and culinary educator at the PB&J Fund. "You learn skills that you don't necessarily know that you are learning."

The children who cook in the new kitchen can appreciate the bright, fun atmosphere and the delicious recipes on the menu.

"They help us too and like they guide us through it," said student Princess Ghartey. "It's fun to try new things."

The staff is just as excited to be there as well. 

"So they're also learning about nutrition, they're learning about culinary skills, they're learning about math skills in a different way than they would in a classroom, and they're learning about food safety and they're doing it with their friends," she said. "So we're kind of in a win-win situation. They want to be here and we're happy to work with them."

An actual chef would appreciate the new kitchen, equipped with a six-burner convection stove, plenty of counter space, and all the necessary cooking gadgets.

"So they're learning how to cook like a chef would, but at a kid-friendly level," Cost said.

"You get to eat with your friends and just try new things," added Ghartey.

One of the fun features of the kitchen, for kids, is all the colors. Everything is red, purple, or orange. It's color-coordinated so each team can keep track of their own materials and everyone washes their own dishes.

"And now they actually want to do the dishes because I think they're excited to be in the space," Evans said. "It's a very kid-friendly kitchen and the kitchen can be an intimidating place to be and we've tried to make it not intimidating, to make cooking fun," she said.

The new PB&J Fund kitchen holds up to 18 kids. They're making nutritious meals like smoothies, spinach artichoke dip, three bean chili, spaghetti bolognaise, and vegetable soup using fresh seasonal produce. They're making the meals not just for themselves, but for their parents and families.

"It teaches me how to cook because I'm not really a good cook," said student Weedor Kollie. "My mom, I always ask her if I can cook now because I'm a little better at it and I can't wait to go to the next level," she said.

The staff, like Evans, can't wait to see the students' progress either.

"They teach us more than we teach them on a daily basis, so it's a wonderful place to work," she said. "Cooking is such an important part of life, food is so integral to life, and so by allowing us to teach cooking skills early on it creates more choice, it creates more confidence, and it expands the breadth of knowledge about food which  nourishes us."

Wednesday, the PB&J Fund begins its partnership with Children, Youth and Family Services of Charlottesville and Virginia Cooperative Extension to provide the Cooking Matters program to Parenting Mobile participants at the new kitchen.

Friday night, the PB&J Fund is supporting students at Buford Middle School with their "Veg Off." The kids will cook various foods with sweet potato as the "secret ingredient," then, it's up to the students to choose a winner.

The PB&J Fund Holiday Giving event for volunteers is December 6 and 7. Volunteer opportunities are available, and for more information about how to get involved, submit a volunteer inquiry on the PB&J website.

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