Lenon tucks in his small fingers as he holds down a jalapeño half and slices it into thin strips with slow, steady moves of the knife. He has a whole bowl of jalapeños to slice and dice in front of him and this 9-year-old from Mater Academy East does it better than some home cooks I know.
The jalapeños are going into the Malabar tuna cakes that Lenon and some 15 other Mater Academy students are preparing as they learn about the cuisine of India in their Common Threads class at Miami-Dade College. On this Wednesday afternoon, they’re also making palak paneer, banana lassi and garam masala.
Common Threads is a non-profit organization founded by chef Art Smith in Chicago to teach low-income children ages 8 to 12 to cook and eat healthy food. The Miami chapter, founded by chef Michelle Bernstein, has four groups of students going through the 12-week program this season. It is also getting ready to host its First Annual World Festival, a fundraiser on November 1 featuring 13 chefs, including Bernstein, Sam Gorenstein, John Critchley, Cindy Hutson, Frank Jeanetti and Art Smith. (See ticket information below).
I always liked Common Thread’s mission but visiting a class made me appreciate it so much more. While the goal is to teach children to cook and eat healthier, the classes also teach acceptance and openness to other cultures.
Before the kids got to cooking, the chef instructor (Miss Wendy) went over what cuisine they would be learning about that day and reminded them about techniques. The bear claw (fingers curled in like a claw), for example, is the technique they apply to hold onto slippery foods when cutting them. She also illustrated how much sugar several popular soft drinks contained by showing the kids the physical amount in white sugar — you’d be surprised.
After the meal was done, the students cleaned up their stations and sat down to eat. I won’t say they all liked what was on their plate, but they all tried it because the rule here is that they must try everything once. And that’s why this class was great to see: the kids tried new foods, learned to make foods healthier and showed so much enthusiasm in the kitchen.
Common Threads 1st Annual World Festival
When: Monday, November 1; 7:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Where: The Palms Hotel & Spa
3025 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
Price: $125 per person