CINCINNATI — LaTasha Hambrick signed up for a cooking class with her younger daughter back in 2018 so they could spend more time together before the teen went off to college.
Hambrick ended up with a recipe to build closer relationships with all three of her kids.
“We learned how to prepare a table and how to – after we finish eating – sit down and talk as a family,” Hambrick said. “I’ve learned a lot about my children. They can come to me and talk to me about anything, I feel like now. It’s like they’re not shy – just because of us sitting down and having basic conversations.”
An emphasis on the importance of family mealtimes is a critical component of Cooking for the Family, a program of St. Seraph Francis Ministries that also focuses on preparing healthy, affordable meals.
“The idea is we want to expose people to foods that maybe they haven’t tried before. We want to teach them techniques that maybe they don’t already know. And we do all of that to increase their comfort with the idea of cooking at home,” said LaToya Bridgeman, Cooking for the Family’s program director.
“If you’re comfortable enough to cook those meals at home, then maybe you spend less time in the drive-throughs like many of us are wont to do, and you cook those meals at home for your family,” Bridgeman said. “That increases the possibility of having nutritious meals. And that gives you time with your family to sort of do that bonding over the cooking process.”
Now Cooking for the Family is poised to resume in-person classes, which have been on hold since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. Classes are scheduled at the St. Anthony Center in Over-the-Rhine on Saturday mornings starting Aug. 28 and Tuesday evenings starting Aug. 31.
Each class lasts 2 1/2 hours, Bridgeman said, and the skills and recipes build upon each other throughout the five-week program. Students who attend at least four of the five classes are considered graduates and receive a gift that includes a cast-iron pan, chef’s knife, cutting board and knife sharpener. The total fee for the program is $10 per student, and sponsors are available to help cover that cost for participants who can’t afford it.
“It’s been a very long time in restarting,” Bridgeman said of the program. “We’re so excited, and it seems like the community is excited as well.”
Cooking for the Family launched in 2016, and more than 600 students have graduated from the program so far, said Jamie Stoneham, the program’s founder and former director.
Stoneham developed the curriculum to teach participants how to use farm-fresh food and ingredients they can grow in their own gardens. Community groups and partners began supporting the program once Stoneham demonstrated through surveys how much participants gained from it, she said.
“The number one question we’d get after every class was, ‘When’s the next one?’” said Stoneham, who owns FarmChef, a business that teaches a passion for growing and cooking food that nourishes the body.
Stoneham said she hopes to develop a curriculum for a second round of classes that builds upon the first.
“It just makes me so happy,” she said. “The program and the people who take it are really holding on to the things that are learned. And it’s exciting because I also learned so much from them, and we were able to build this community.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, each class would end with the students sitting down to eat a meal together.
Unfortunately, Bridgeman said, that won’t be possible for the upcoming sessions. Instead, participants will take home their finished meals along with ingredients so they can make the meals again on their own.
The program is changing to keep students safe. The Cooking for the Family teaching kitchen at St. Anthony Center has plenty of room for students to maintain social distance, she said, and everyone will be required to wear masks throughout the program.
“We’re taking as many precautions as we possibly can to make sure we stay safe,” Bridgeman said, adding that St. Anthony Center also has a new air filtration system.
If there comes a point where the classes can’t be held in person, she said, the program’s staff will figure out the best way to continue.
“We try to teach students eight different cooking techniques,” Bridgeman said. “So they’ll learn everything from sauteing to braising in this class. We teach them basic knife skills. We teach them proper food storage. We try to get a little bit of safety and sanitation information in there as well.”
From liver and onions to leafy greens
Hambrick said the program changed the way she and her family eat.
“The meals that we had before was kind of like real heavy meals, like liver and onions. Even though I still love that. But liver and onions and potatoes,” she said. “I used to make a pot of greens for hours when I didn’t need to. Sometimes fast food, more than I eat now. It was a lot of fast food back then.”
Now after Cooking for the Family, Hambrick’s meals include lots of salads and leafy greens. She even has her own garden, she said, and her 9-year-old son likes to pick fresh cucumbers and eat them as a snack.
Hambrick enjoyed the program so much that she became a Cooking for the Family volunteer and later a chef instructor. That was in addition to her full-time job as a community health worker with Cradle Cincinnati, where she works with moms to help reduce infant mortality and extreme preterm births.
Hambrick said she recommends Cooking for the Family to anyone who is vaccinated against COVID-19 and wants to learn some new skills and meet new people.
“This class offers a lot,” she said. “The knife skills, learning different ingredients, learning how to prepare those ingredients, how to be a family.”
Those lessons continue to pay off for Hambrick and her family, she said, even though her daughters are both away at college now and she and her son are on their own for dinner most nights.
“He’s like, ‘Can I sit in front of the TV and eat?’” Hambrick said of her son. “And I’m like, ‘No. Let’s sit together. Let’s not break it.’”
Spots are available in the Cooking for the Family classes that start in August. More information is available online or by calling the Cooking for the Family team at St. Francis Seraph Ministries at (513) 516-6113.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.