In a partnership with Perfect Ten, an organization supporting young girls, high school aged girls learned how specific food, in addition to dance and music, are significant to the cultural identity of West African countries. Food is often a reflection of the traditions and geography of a specific place or area, making it intrinsically tied to the identity of cultures and regions. In Columbia County, Sylvia Center students explored the joys of healthy food and eating, and also the significance of culture.
In Perfect Ten’s programs, high school aged girls explored the food and culture of West African countries in a partnership with PS21, an organization supporting arts and cultural programming, and The Sylvia Center. In the week’s programs, students had the opportunity to learn traditional Malian dance and drumming from teachers at Jamal Jackson and Company through PS21. These young girls also learned how to prepare classic West African foods, like Mafé from instructors at The Sylvia Center.
Mafe is a stew recognizable by its groundnut (typically ground peanuts) and tomato sauce. An aromatic trio of onion, garlic and ginger, deepens the flavor, making it truly distinct. In West Africa, you’ll find Mafé served from one shared bowl during celebrations and when welcoming guests. The dish is a celebration not only of food and culture, but also agriculture, as peanuts are a major crop in regions across West Africa.
The version we created was served with vegetables, but traditionally, this dish is served with meat, usually lamb. The Mafé we prepared had a pleasing mixture of textures, balancing the rich, thick peanut sauce with a variety of vegetables. Mafé is often served over rice, couscous, fonio, fufu, or jollof, our choice for the day. Check out the full Mafé recipe on our blog.
At The Sylvia Center in NYC, our Teen Apprentices helped teach a cooking class to kids--ages five to seven years old in Long Island City, Queens. In this class, students learned how to make an Orzo Pasta Salad and fresh Lemonade from scratch. From the beginning to the end of the class, the young students showcased great energy and enthusiasm, enthralled by the many different fruits and vegetables set out for the day.
Before any cooking could commence, Theresa, the Community Chef Instructor, asked students to repeat the word orzo, and explained that although it looks like a grain, orzo is actually a variety of pasta. First, these young students were divided into two groups: one for making the lemonade and another for making the pasta salad. The lemonade group worked on squeezing lemons for lemon juice, carefully guided by their Teen Apprentices. The pasta salad group practiced knife skills with a butter knife, using the bear claw technique to cut cucumbers, red and green peppers, and tomatoes. After cutting their respective fruits and vegetables, one younger student exclaimed to a friend: “We are the masters!”. That was exactly right -- with guided practice, these young chefs were learning basic knife skills in the kitchen.
After both of the dishes were finally finished, the students started eating and drinking their creations. Some of the students were surprised that the peppers were not spicy, but actually quite sweet. Many students discussed their favorite fruit or vegetable from the pasta salad, with many differing opinions. One student liked the food so much, she wanted to bring some home with her to share with her mom. When class was over, students left the kitchen with a small helping of extras to share with their loved ones. After creating something delicious, the smiling faces proved that these young kids were enthusiastic about the dishes they made, and excited to learn more about food and cooking.