CAMDEN, NJ—The smell of freshly cut cilantro and sizzling peppers and onions filled an all-purpose room at Camden County’s Nilsa I. Cruz-Perez Library.
Inside, eight students from the City of Camden were learning from Vetri Community Partnership’s Amy Falkenstein on how to cook burrito bowls.
Falkenstein and Vetri Community Partnership’s Mobile Teaching Kitchen program were visiting as part of the Camden County Library System’s Books and Cooks summer program.
The program began and Camden to promote food literacy, and has since expanded to the other branches of the county’s library system, Freeholder Bill Moen, liaison to the Camden County Library System, said.
“(The program’s goal is) to really focus on food literacy and to present fresh vegetables to a lot of students who may not have had access to farmer markets,” said Moen. “The thing in my mind that is the most important part of is the aspect of healthy eating and the bond between that and healthy living.”
This is the first year that Vetri Community Partnership, a Philadelphia nonprofit founded by Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri, partnered with the library’s books and cooks program.
“We learn things like healthy eating and life skills,” said Falkenstein, mobile teaching kitchen program manager. “We’re talking about fresh foods versus processed foods, we’re talking about roasting, sauteing, measuring — all of those types of things that go into making a recipe for yourself.”
Vetri Community Partnership’s Mobile Teaching Kitchen Program began in 2016 with the goal to “really get kids and families — in this situation these are teens — hands on with creating a menu from scratch, with these natural ingredients,” said Kelly Herrenkohl, chief operating officer. “With the ultimate goal being that they would then try it and eat it, and say, ‘Oh, I like peppers.”
When there is space, said Herrenkohl, the nonprofit will bring a modified food truck, — its mobile teaching kitchen — and set the workshop up outside. The program serves multiple communities across the region.
Falkenstein said that learning how to cook a burrito bowl helps students because not only does it involve preparing relatable ingredients in different ways, but also because "It's convenience food in that you can go anywhere and get a burrito or a burrito bowl, but it's really different to make it for yourself.
"To know what you can put in it, and then also making the substitutions and making it healthier ... When you buy something out it typically has a lot more additives, it has a lot more things that you can’t identify. But when you make it for yourself, you know everything that your putting into it so that’s one of the things we to talk about."
She also said that its a meal that most people like to eat — something the students confirmed.
Cilantro chopper Dominique Cranshaw, 19, said while she cooks sometimes, she’s “going to have to when I go to college.” She said is attending Stockton University in the fall. “It’s fun,” she said of learning to cook, adding that her favorite part comes at the end — when they get to eat the meal.
Rommel Matias and Dashann Draper, both 15, agreed that the best part was when they get to eat.
“What I like about cooking is just the patience, the zen, the tang — all that, and to eat,” said Rommel. “It’s pretty fun, and it's very relaxing too.”