Bay Area non-profit’s plans to teach local students sustainable cooking skills

Priscila Chavez,

Daniel Patterson is now a Michelin star chef based in San Francisco, but he got his start doing non-profit work through Larkin St. Youth Services, an organization that helps homeless youth get back on their feet.

When Patterson first met Sasha Bernstein, she was hosting cooking classes for children at local farmers’ markets. Both were involved in the food and wine world and wanted to give back to the community. So they joined forces and started The Cooking Project in May of 2013.

The Cooking Project is a non-profit based in the Bay Area that focuses on teaching local students vital and sustainable cooking skills.

“We wanted to help kids feel more confident in the kitchen and just be able to feed themselves better on a budget,” said Bernsten. “We wanted to offer them that family meal experience that not everybody gets and the education of how that food gets to the table.”

The project currently partners with schools and teachers from both Oakland and San Francisco.

Their services are offered through two different routes. In the first route, they either partner with a specific teacher or advisor of an organization and set them up with a local chef off site.

The age of the students range from high school to college age and they take a field trip to the offsite location for a day class. These classes are held monthly and available to any organization that is interested in participating.

They also partner with local schools to set up entire programs that can last up to several weeks, during which the organization comes into the schools and teaches these classes on campus a couple days out of the week.

Mike Prutz, a physical education teacher at Lowell High School in San Francisco, has partnered with The Cooking Project for a couple of years now. “Because we do focus on the health and fitness aspects of life, food is right in there,” said Prutz. “It was a perfect match, really.”

Prutz works with the organization to tailor each course to his students’ needs and interests.

“You never know what they take home. But we always ask them to try what they learned that day at home and they do,” Prutz said.

The program is designed in a way to not only teach the students basic cooking skills, but to help them explore different themes that they haven’t explored before. Some of the classes they offer focus on varying themes that range from cooking with local and sustainable food to the history of certain cultural dishes.

At the end of their partnered program with the schools, the students get to organize a potluck among themselves. The potluck has to be made up of food they made on their own, and they have to share and present their dishes to their classmates.

“We had a student that was very shy in one of our programs, and during the final potluck he shared his dish with so much pride it made me so proud to be part of that experience,” Bernstein said.

The Cooking Project is looking to expand their partnership both with the local schools and local chefs to provide these classes to as many young people in the community as possible.

“A lot of the times it just helps build relationships in the kitchen and with their parents or caretakers,” said Purtz. “If they can contribute and have a relationship with whoever feeds them they gain an appreciation for how to make food and the connections that they make.”