Twice a year, we announce that it’s time to launch another semester of Vetri Cooking Lab. We post pictures of our educator training and wish them and their students well as they embark on their 10-week culinary and nutrition education experience. But what one might not realize is that months of preparation go into getting ready for this exact moment. In fact, the process of launching a Vetri Cooking Lab starts approximately three months before the semester begins.
Using a previous semester’s recipe book as a base, program staff take a look at the big picture to consider what recipes worked well previously and which ones need to be updated. Things that could necessitate an update include improving flavor, easing of preparation in our classrooms, diversifying the types of recipes we make, better demonstrating STEAM concepts, and more. After identifying the recipes we want to update, program staff take time during the next several weeks to research, test, and retest new recipes until they have created dishes which are not only nutritious, but also full of flavor and able to provide enough jobs for 10-15 students to make together in our culinary classrooms.
At the same time, we begin mapping out the logistics of launching classes at over 35 sites across the region. One of the first tasks includes coordinating with our contacts at each of our sites to confirm dates and times for the new semester. While many of our educators return each semester, new applicants are interviewed and hired each season to ensure all sites are staffed. Beyond this, volunteers need to be recruited to assist the educators in their classes. Once all educators and volunteers have been brought on board, program staff must work with their individual schedules and transportation needs to assign them to an appropriate class time and location.
Another major task to be completed includes the preparation of our curriculum handbooks for our educators. Like the recipe books, program staff use a previous curriculum as a base upon which to build, and edit it to align with the recipes on deck for the coming semester. Curriculum content is also updated to make sure it’s up-to-date and relevant to students’ lives, interests, and learning styles. Lessons include informational content, educational games, and hands-on activities to help students learn things like proper measurement and knife skills, how to navigate nutrition labels, and how to think critically about where food comes from, what’s inside of it, and the decisions we make daily around food.
As educator training draws closer, many tasks still need to be accomplished. Recipe books and curriculum binders need to be printed. Spices need to be purchased, measured into individual bags, and packed into kits. Student aprons, dish towels, and other program supplies have to be ordered. All of these items and more then need to be counted, sorted, and placed into bags for educators to take to their sites.
After the months of recipe development, curriculum writing, logistics planning and staff hiring, the time for launch finally comes. On the day of training, over twenty educators come to the VCP office to learn about classroom management and instructional techniques, as well as to practice the recipes and run through lesson content. Once the day has finished, they grab their teaching kits that have been months in the making and head off, well prepared to lead their students through another successful semester.
So the next time you see the announcement that we’re launching Vetri Cooking Lab, know that it is more than just those pictures and that moment. It is the culmination of months of hard work and preparation to ensure we deliver thoughtful, relevant programming that not only inspires youth to cook and learn about nutritious foods, but also to have fun doing it.