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Building Community Through Cooking Classes at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy

After a few hours of play and exercise in the summer sun, the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy campers were ready to eat. As the middle schoolers filed into the kitchen from outside, they took turns washing their hands and putting on their DC Central Kitchen aprons in preparation for their final cooking class. Today’s event would be a final test of their knife skills and culinary knowledge: the taco cookoff.

This summer, our Healthy School Food team was asked to teach a weekly, cooking class to two groups of campers as a part of the Youth Baseball Academy by Nationals Philanthropies. The curriculum was grounded in DC Central Kitchen’s mission of using food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build community. Each lesson featured nourishing recipes and introduced basic culinary concepts and skills that could be applied across a wide range of ingredients and recipes.

In the first class, our staff introduced core skills that students could continue to apply and build throughout the class series. They learned about basic knife cuts, dry and liquid measurements, how to read recipes, and the concept of mise en place. The second class focused on the functions of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats and how to identify foods containing those nutrients. In the third class, students learned to identify fresh herbs and explore different flavors. They learned about food systems in the fourth class and were able to describe how disparate aspects of the food system are connected. All these lessons and culinary practice culminated into a final cookoff.

Each class of 12 split into two teams and worked together to come up with an original taco recipe to collaborate on.

“We chose tacos because they are fun, familiar, and easily customizable, allowing students to apply their new cooking skills more independently while practicing teamwork and adding a creative touch. For example, students used beef, chicken, or beans and chose from a variety of vegetable toppings and seasonings,” said Healthy School Food Nutrition Specialist, Travertine Garcia.

Some students chopped tomatoes and cilantro while others cooked ground chicken in a pan with assistance from DC Central Kitchen staff. After all the ingredients were prepared, both teams huddled around the plates working together to create a unique taco presentation for the cookoff judges. In the end Team Taco Guapo’s ground beef taco and Team Da Boyz’s chicken and beef tacos took home wins.

Though there could only be one winning dish from each class, the students still enjoyed learning new cooking skills and working together with their peers with some packing to-go boxes of their tacos to share with their families.

“Cooking connects us to our health, the environment, and one another,” Garcia said about the importance of the Nationals Academy cooking class.

She added, “We hope that our students came away from this series with the tools they need to continue exploring cooking as a health behavior, creative outlet, and career opportunity.”