Cooking Up Helpings of Multi-cultural Cuisine and Community

Cooking Club

When you think about eating sushi in Nashville, Father Ryan High School may not be the first place that comes to mind. But on a day in early January, the school cafeteria was brimming with at least 20 cooks, hundreds of seaweed squares, an imposing pile of scooped fresh avocado and assorted other ingredients.

Welcome to the Father Ryan Cooking Club.

Last August, Father Gervan – or Father G, as his adoring students call him – was approached by seniors Olivia Scruggs and Elliott Gild and asked if he’d be willing to lead the group. Father G is the school chaplain and teaches theology.  But he also has a long-standing relationship with the culinary arts. “My whole family is involved with food,” said Father G. “We are from Brazil. My family always did catering, and I did as well. Before I became a priest I worked in and managed a sushi restaurant.”

Today he’s managing a large crew of passionate, but novice cooks. The din of enthusiastic voices mixed with constant chopping and the clink-clanking of utensils, dishes and pans is almost deafening, in the best of ways. In one room sushi is being “mastered”. In an adjacent room, another cluster of students is conjuring up soba soup and tempura shrimp.

The overall theme for this lesson is Asian cuisine. Past months have featured Italian and Mexican recipes. In November a Thanksgiving feast was prepared. One session was devoted to baking a variety of cookies.

The Club meets once a month. Students pay a fee to be members. Then the Club coordinates with  Father Ryan dining services to buy and arrange for delivery of the food. “There’s really nothing else like it,” said Gild. “There’s an International Cuisine Club, but that’s more about eating food than learning how to make it. Olivia and I both really like cooking, and we knew Father G before the Cooking Club and we were already good friends, and we knew that he had a background in the restaurant industry. So we thought he’d be the perfect person to lead us into this. And then it just kinda took off from there.”

Scruggs has enjoyed cooking since she was a little kid. At Father Ryan, her extracurricular focus was band, but at the end of last year she decided she wanted to move in a different direction. Unfortunately, she was having some trouble figuring out what direction that might be. It was her mom who suggested starting a cooking club. “So I sat down, did all the work for it, and it came alive,” said Scruggs. “We had to come up with a mission statement for our club, and rules, and how it would be run, and what our goal was. Then we had to get a petition signed by 50 kids, saying ‘yeah, this is a great idea; I want to join’.  And then if you get all that done, and it’s approved, then you’re ready to go!”

When the Cooking Club proposal was introduced, 150 Father Ryan students, grades 9-12, autographed the petition. When it was a “done deal”, 75 students signed up to participate.

“I was expecting maybe eight kids would show up!” laughed Scruggs. “Now we usually have about 50 people. Which I think is an amazing turnout.”

Food may be the vehicle, but through Father G’s guidance, the Club has other outcome goals. “At Father Ryan everything we do is related to faith, knowledge and service,” said Father G. “In the Cooking Club we’re trying to integrate all three of them. Faith – we pray before we start. A couple of weeks ago we did a Cooking Club to help feed the homeless, by making a whole meal for about 30-40 guests and volunteers of the school’s Room in the Inn program. And the students are learning new stuff all the time!”

At the beginning of the school year, Scruggs, Gild and Father G met to come up with general cuisine themes for the Club. Then, during the month of each meeting, that core group decides which specific dishes to make. Then they notify all the rest of the Club members through an on-line messaging system.

Scruggs and Gild are getting invaluable experience working behind the scenes, planning for themes and meals, ordering the food and organizing the specific ingredients for each meal, along with any special equipment or materials – like the sushi rolling mats – required for each endeavor.

The Club is yielding some wonderful benefits for the other students too. Member Emily Kendall is soaking up the knowledge she’s acquiring like a kitchen sponge. “There are a ton of recipes!” said Kendall.  “And I’m getting a lot of experience that I’ve never had before with different cultures. Father G used to be a professional chef, so I’ve learned some new techniques. I’ve always been interested in cooking, but I lacked training. This is kind of honing my skills.“

The Club also helps Kendall think about meals she could make, or help with, at home. In fact, this past November, Kendall cooked her family’s Thanksgiving meal by herself, and it was a great success. “My parents trusted me enough to do that!” she laughed.

Nathalia Daniels doesn’t consider herself to be a great cook, but she’s having a blast just learning how to make several recipes.

Parker Brennan is learning how to use knives properly and to cut foods efficiently. She especially liked the opportunity to do a culinary service project for Father Ryan’s Room in the Inn. “The guests came in the next day and ate the food that we made,” she said. “That was awesome.”

Cooking Club founder Scruggs sees the entire enterprise as a way to engage, and enhance, the Father Ryan community-at-large. “In high school, I feel like it’s so hard for kids to make friends between grades,” said Scruggs. “I think what the Cooking Club does is teach kids to make a balanced meal, but we also give them a way to connect with other people in different grades, of different backgrounds.

“I think that’s really something that Jesus would be all about,” she continued. “He wanted people to love each other, and that’s kind of what we’re doing through cooking and eating together.”

This article first appeared in the Tennessee Register.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Speak Your Mind


Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.