The delicious aroma of simmering vegetables and spicy chili permeated the air last Thursday in the University’s Teaching Kitchen. Students bustled around the kitchen to check up on their dishes and chop vegetables to add to the meal.
Located in the Teaching Kitchen in the Student Health and Wellness Building on Brandon Avenue are the “Hoo’s Cooking” nutrition education and culinary skills classes. Students can sign up online as individuals or groups with a registration fee of $6 which goes toward paying for the materials but can be waived based on financial needs. As someone who rarely cooks from scratch, I found that the class met its promises — it enables students to learn how to cook delicious meals in a positive, supportive environment at a low cost.
During class last week, we prepared a golden harvest chili and cornbread muffins — the recipe changes each week during individual classes held every Thursday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. I was hesitant at first because I had never eaten chili and I don’t eat much meat, but after viewing the calendar of classes, I saw that the meals can be modified to fit any dietary restrictions.
Upon entering, I was greeted by bright, friendly instructors and a positive atmosphere. The kitchen features floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing sunlight to pour into the room. Arranged in the center of the kitchen are five spacious stainless steel-top tables for the students, and directly across, was a counter where instructors demonstrate each step of the process.
I appreciate how well looked after we were. When I sat down at the table with my partner, all ingredients and supplies needed were measured out and laid neatly in front of us. All the produce, bowls and utensils were clean and ready to go. Instructors provided plenty of clear instructions on what to do and I was given space for my belongings and an apron to put on, as well as cut-resistant gloves to keep my hands safe when using knives. Excitement filled me as I took in the stunning kitchen and delicious potential before me and prepared to begin.
After first learning and practicing knife safety, we began to cut the vegetables. During this process, the other instructors and assistants walked around the room and advised those who had questions or any difficulties. I felt relieved to have extra help when my partner and I got behind the others. We cut a variety of hearty vegetables including carrots, onions and butternut squash.
As we cut and began to saute the vegetables, the air in the kitchen started to smell like fall as the spicy scent of the chili started to fill the room. I was starting to grow eager as I saw what was previously a pile of ingredients turns into a cohesive meal.
In the meantime, we started to prepare the cornbread muffins, splitting up the work by table. My partner added the muffin batter into the buttered tin and afterward, the instructors placed the tin in the oven. The instructors’ support made me more confident in my cooking skills. As we neared the end, I beamed with excitement as the aroma of buttery muffins began to mix with the fragrant chili.
Both the chili and muffins finished cooking around the same time. The assistants swiftly set up the muffins and various other toppings for the chili on the front counter along with utensils and plates. Everyone lined up and served themselves and I decided to garnish my chili with finely chopped parsley, green onions and sliced avocado. As I took in my creation, my bowl of chili was a mosaic of autumn colors — I couldn’t wait to dig in.
At last, we were able to eat the meal we had cooked from start to finish. I was pleasantly surprised by the explosion of flavors and textures in my mouth, shocked that I had made the chili myself. I found the chili to be spicy, but not overwhelming. The savory chili was complemented perfectly by the fluffy, sweet and buttery cornbread muffins. I took up the offer to take home leftovers and regret not taking more.
The class was a fun way to wind down in the evening and get away from the typical University hustle and bustle. I enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone with cooking and I liked that I was able to eat an affordable, nutritious meal. I felt supported and looked after throughout the process — it helped cooking feel fun instead of feeling like work. I recommend this class to anyone who wants a change from flavorless dining hall food or instant ramen, students who want to do a fun activity with their friends or anyone who wants to improve their culinary skills.