A letter from Jomille, one of 30 students from the Bronx and Brooklyn currently enrolled in our Teen Culinary Apprenticeship.
Imagine being part of a community that usually eats junk food and is never concerned about the products being ingested into their body, then learning how to cook healthy food that also tastes great.
My name is Jomille and I am currently enrolled in The Sylvia Center’s Teen Culinary Apprenticeship program. Through this program, teenagers like me learn nutritional ways to spice up their favorite dishes, and then teach younger kids how to do the same. We learn how to correctly cut foods and make a recipe, and the appropriate amounts for a specific serving. We learn the different parts of a commercial kitchen and the precautionary measures to take when cooking in a kitchen with other people. We warn others when we have a knife in hand by shouting “Sharp Behind!” And when we have a hot item, we shout “Hot Behind!” We learn to do tunnel and bear claw techniques to prevent getting our fingers cut, and we learn not to run or fool around in a kitchen, especially when there are others working nearby.
We also learn about food justice, which is the ability to have healthy, freshly grown foods available at a close distance for a decent price. It also means that animals are treated well, not exposed to diseases, not packed into a small area where they have no space to grow, not given antibiotics, corn, or “fattened up” with salt water solution.
With all this knowledge comes responsibility. We must be able to explain this knowledge to kids in a way that will keep them engaged and interested in what is going into their bodies. In the eyes of the younger children, teens are “cooler” than their parents, grandparents, or any other adults in their lives. We can help get the younger generation to eat healthy and be aware of the food they eat. We can slide in some jokes and relatable stories. Kids are the future, and I can’t wait to teach them how to eat healthy and create their own dishes!
Teenagers just want to have fun! With all this hard work being done for at least four hours a week, everyone brings their personalities into each dish. For one of our lessons, we had to create an egg dish, give the egg a backstory and a name. Many stories were hilarious and the eggs ended up on the plate in the most comical ways. During food preparation, we always crack jokes (and puns) while chopping up the food, mixing, blending, you name it. When we clean, we clean in harmony. “Many hands make for light work,” as Chef Doreece says, and this is always evident in the Bronx Sylvia Center kitchen. There is never a class day where I don’t experience the kitchen smelling great. And the junior chefs and I enjoy our time cooking and cleaning together.
I’ve always known I wanted to help the future generation because they’re so vulnerable, underrepresented and taken for granted. I have decided to become an Ob/Gyn to help women and developing babies. I want to protect them and make sure they’re as healthy as they can be. I know that minority women do not get the attention they deserve when it comes to doctors and medicine. I want to be the change in this field and be the voice they deserve. I want to be able to help the future generation.
Learning from the kids that I will teach this summer will help me better appreciate their potential, which will allow me to be more careful, caring, and meaningful when helping mothers deliver their babies. I’ve seen how kids are like clay and I am looking forward to working, now and in the future, to help kids of all different ages live better lives.
You can help support this program, and the other work we do with young people in New York City and Columbia County, by making a gift this spring.