Understanding that cultural enrichment is nothing more than experiencing the practices and/or traditions of another culture with the common goal of promoting diversity, taking a trip to the New Orleans Cooking School allowed students at Hinds Community College's Utica Campus to do just that!
To many, New Orleans is one of the most popular cities in the state of Louisiana and although nationally it is known for its rich history and musical genius, the delightful tastes of great creole and Southern cooking in New Orleans is known worldwide!
Many of the world’s most famous chefs prepare their entrées in the kitchens of restaurants located in the heart of this great city every day, such as Chef Emeril Lagasse and Chef Leah Chase. Presented with an opportunity to expose our students to another fabulous and enriching cultural experience, we decided to engage them in a hands-on learning experience that involved the preparation of a four-course meal that was entirely prepared and presented by them!
This experience allowed our students to call upon their teamwork skills and abilities as they learned to cook a four-course meal by one of New Orleans top chefs. Indeed this was both an honor and a privilege because this is one of the objectives of our program: making real-life connections as we teach life-long lessons. Our program targets low-income, first-generation and disabled students.
Having said that, many of them are very limited as it pertains to the awareness that cultural enrichment brings. This is why we strive to teach and reach the whole student through building meaningful relationships, conducting monthly club meetings, midterm academic advisement and assessing the needs of our students academically and socially on a regular basis.
After presenting a mini-workshop on table etiquette for interested participants, I thought it would be a neat idea to allow them to practice that etiquette while introducing them to the history and taste of Creole foods.
In my experience and discussions with our students, whenever we are afforded the opportunity to travel and dine in nice restaurants our students scream either, “I don’t eat this or “That’s nasty!” As the conversation continues, I soon discover that they had never tried the dish so they would prefer to order foods they are most familiar with.
Therefore, in an effort to make sure they have an opportunity to taste different foods from different cultures, I decided for every trip, we would pre-select a restaurant, obtain a copy of the menu prior to attending and let students choose their meal in advance to ease their anxiety. This also gives students the opportunity to inquire about any unfamiliar dishes they would be willing to try. This technique has proven to be most helpful because our program aims to continuously broaden their minds.
Needless to say, they were very excited about the trip as most of them had never visited New Orleans. In fact, many of them had no idea what Creole food was and a few of them even shared they did not know how to cook! This was going to be very challenging and fun and I could not wait to see their faces as they learned the essentials of cooking and preparing a meal!
On Aug. 25, several staff members and 25 students traveled with great anticipation to New Orleans, ready to fully engage in the lessons of the cooking class to be held in their honor at the New Orleans School of Cooking. Upon arrival, the staff greeted us with all the thrills and excitement of embarking upon a new adventure! As we waited for Chef Mark to receive us, his staff had prepared several kinds of delicious foods and seasonings for us to taste, such as pecan pralines, sauces, pretzel sticks, breads and more!
Our program participants are part of a Student Support Services program that includes students in the general studies academic area as well as Career and Technical Education. Because we always encourage our students to be assertive and embrace all opportunities to grow within their chosen field, we were fortunate to have participants from the Radio/Television Production and Broadcasting Technology program to record this experience. They were even given the opportunity to interview Chef Mark!
After the introduction of Chef Mark, a brief history on the origin of Creole foods was presented. Immediately following, the students were divided into four groups and given their own apron to remind them of this wonderful experience. Shortly afterward, they turned it into a competition and the games began! Each group was given the job of preparing one of the four courses of the meal. Recipes for the food was provided to each group. The menu for that day included:
- Louisiana Meat Pies
- Chicken `Etoufee
- Fresh Fruit Crepe Flambe
As they say in New Orleans: “Laissez les bon temp roulez,” which means “Let the good times roll!”
The collaboration, laughter and exchange of cooking techniques was astounding! The students enjoyed the experience and we captured most of them on camera. Some participants were current Culinary Arts students who really took full advantage of their opportunity to indulge in intimate conversations with Chef Mark following the class who encouraged them to continue their journey in culinary arts!
After the dishes were finished, we sat at the prepared tables and were served each dish by the group who prepared it. The experience was one to remember. The food was delicious, proper table etiquette were displayed, bellies were full and we were all very pleased with the entire experience!
Even though one facet of our program encourages cultural enrichment, the expectation for our students is not negotiable. That is, to attend any of our trips, students must meet the following prerequisites:
- A 2.5 -4.0 GPA
- Be an active member in SSS
- Participate in three academic workshops provided by Student Support Services and
- Attend Mid-Term Academic Advisement and intervention/tutoring sessions if referred by advisor or teacher due to lack of performance in course study.
Teaching and learning should be a part of all that we do and as life-long learners, our top priority is to provide quality instructional programs and services that will enhance positive student experiences and academic performance here at Hinds-Utica, obtain a degree, and/or pursue a four-year college or begin their career.
By the way, everything was delicious and it was impossible to choose a winner!
Tara N. Johnson is director of Student Support Services at Hinds Community College's Utica Campus.