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Chehalem Cultural Center puts on several classes; more expected in the New Year.

COURTESY PHOTO: COOK SMARTS PDX - Cook Smarts PDX, an organization started by a pair of Portland chefs, provided cooking classes to kids at the Chehalem Cultural Center for several weeks recently.

A Portland organization made its mark on local youths in recent weeks, providing them a necessary skill in a safe and inclusive environment.

Cook Smarts PDX, an organization started by a pair of Portland chefs, provided cooking classes to kids at the Chehalem Cultural Center every Tuesday for a period of weeks. The classes, which took place twice an afternoon at the cultural center and will hold a final session on Dec. 1, taught kids the basics of a handful of dishes they could cook at home with their parents.

"I am a former elementary school teacher who went to culinary school, so Cook Smarts is really a combination of my two passions — working with kids and cooking," chef Nikki Shaw, one of the organizers, said in an email. "I saw there was a need for basic cooking instructions for kids, especially younger kids (In pre-COVID times we do classes with kids as young as 6) and I decided to do something about that."

The pandemic created myriad challenges for the cooking classes, she said.

"Normally, all the kids work together to cook," she said. "For example, everyone chops the tomatoes, garlic, onions, etc., and then we cook it together to make a marinara. During COVID, my biggest concern was making sure the kids were not eating food touched by other children. So all of our recipes during this time have been individual. They make enough for only themselves and they are all cooked separately. In addition, we are wearing masks and the class is at half capacity and me and my sous chef are wearing gloves. It requires a lot more preparation on my part, but I'm happy to give the kids a fun, educational activity during this stressful time."

The value of cooking as a skill is something the chefs at Cook Smarts hope to instill in the young people who take their classes. According to Shaw, more classes will be on tap in the new year, with COVID-safe precautions if the pandemic remains a challenge.

"I think it is incredibly important that children learn to cook," she said. "Not only for a basic life skill — being able to feed yourself — but I also like kids to have an understanding of what goes into cooking. The science behind why bread rises, or what an egg can do to your batter. Additionally, what goes into your body.

"The idea of using clean, healthy, whole ingredients to make something that is just as tasty as the processed one you can buy at the store. Lastly, I like cooking to feel approachable for them, not something that is in any way scary or intimidating. That way they can have fun experimenting in the kitchen (With proper parental supervision, of course!)"

For information on future classes, keep an eye on chehalemculturalcenter.org.


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