A class at Stanford39s Jamie Oliver Cook Smart Program

A class at Stanford's Jamie Oliver Cook Smart Program.

CIA, Harvard partnership gives rise to teaching kitchens

As more colleges, businesses and communities try to promote healthy living, the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative is helping to identify the best ways to reach out.

The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health are cooking up something that could lead to exciting programs in noncommercial foodservice kitchens around the U.S: the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative (TKC).

The TKC was born of the CIA and T.H. Chan-sponsored Healthy Kitchens Healthy Lives Conference—an annual meeting held with the goal of updating physicians and other healthcare professionals on the newest findings in nutrition science, exercise and movement and health coaching. Ten years after the launch of the conference, the TKC is underway with 26 institutions piloting teaching kitchens in which select institutional audiences—employees in B&I and healthcare settings or students in university settings, for example—can learn healthy living skills from healthcare and culinary professionals.

Early teaching kitchens spur initiative

“The Healthy Kitchens Healthy Lives conference became an incubator for thought leaders in different institutional settings to bring what they learned back to their institutions,” explains Allison Righter, nutrition instructor at the CIA’s Hyde Park campus and coordinator of the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative.

After attending the conference, leaders at several institutions launched their own teaching kitchens.

The settings for these first teaching kitchens ranged from full, dedicated state-of-the art kitchens with workspaces for multiple participants to tiny mobile kitchens. Other institutions used space where they could get it—at local churches and food pantries, for instance. A large tech company has built high-end interactive teaching kitchens in several of its offices. Others with more modest budgets have found a way to take programming to community kitchens. Still others are developing pop-up kitchen models.

The CIA and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has joined forces to help build knowledge around teaching kitchens. Photo: Harvard University

At healthcare organizations and medical schools like Cleveland Clinic, the programming targets clinicians and medical students. At the non-profit L.A. Kitchen, low-income community members are taught how to prepare healthy meals. Universities such as U.C. Berkeley and Harvard launched teaching kitchens to give students lessons in basic cooking skills and wellness.

The Healthy Kitchens Healthy Lives conference organizers realized the need for a central knowledge bank and standards for these programs. “A lot of the first kitchens were reinventing the wheel because there were limited resources and research,” Righter says. “The funding for the TKC allows us to work with these institutions and help create standards and best practices for a wide range of settings and in these different types of teaching kitchens. We wanted to get a range of different types of organizations and kitchens to compare similarities and differences and share those considerations with others.”

The TKC has three goals for the first phase of the collaborative: To let the early adopting institutions learn about each other’s teaching kitchen facilities and educational programs; develop best practices for reproducibility and scalability of the emerging models and programs; and, finally, begin a research network to support the evaluation of the clinical, behavioral and financial impact of selected best practices across various populations and settings.

Startup challenges

Funding—both initial and ongoing—and research are the biggest hurdles organizations face in launching a teaching kitchen program, according to Righter. She explains that institutions can be reluctant to invest in teaching kitchens “until they know what the ROI will be. We’re trying to answer the financial sustainability questions: What is the best model? Do you charge for classes? Once you get it funded, how do you continue to fund it?” Righter says.

Research is another hurdle the TKC is tackling. “What is the best way to measure the success? Ultimately, down the road, you have to design studies and they are time consuming and expensive,” Righter says. “Right now the literature is still pretty slow in coming, and there is variability in the design of these programs, so we want to help coordinate [research] and do some multisite pilot testing to help make the research case for teaching kitchens.”

The TKC also is searching for new members. “We are still in the early stages. We don’t have all the answers right now, but we’re hoping to grow the membership in our collaborative,” Righter says. “It’s an exciting time to get people back into the kitchen and talk about the connection between cooking, health and lifestyle transformation.” Interested institutions can find out more at TKCcollaborative.org. The site will begin to accept applications for participation later this fall.

Examples in action

University, farm collaborate to teach healthcare workers

One of the initial members of the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative is the University of Cincinnati Medical School’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness, in partnership with Turner Farm in Indian Hills, Ohio. Medical students and healthcare workers from the university are enjoying the benefits of the partnership between the school and the largest organic farm in the Cincinnati area. Turner Farm, already a partner in the university’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness, upgraded its facilities for culinary, nutritional literacy and mindful eating courses, as well as instruction in “movement, self-care and personal responsibility for health in close collaboration with the Center,” according to the university. The kitchen features a 22-foot granite island, three chefs’ demonstration spaces and nine cooking stations for groups of two to three. There are also closed-circuit TV monitors so students can get a closer look at the instruction..

Campus cooking classes from a celebrity chef

One of the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative’s charter members, Stanford University, received help for its teaching kitchen program from the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation. The first course in the Jamie Oliver Cook Smart Program took place last year. Courses are held in a teaching kitchen at the campus’s new Arrillaga Family Dining Commons. It features an open-concept design with glass partitions that allow onlookers to see food as it’s prepared. AV equipment at the state-of-the-art facility allows larger studio audiences to participate.

Much of the curriculum for the Stanford program was developed by the foodservice professionals of Stanford Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE). The menus for the Oliver program were developed by Oliver himself and are taught by Stanford staff members who received certification in Oliver’s Cook Smart Program. This fall, the programming was expanded, with R&DE’s development of a 90-minute course that begins in the kitchen and includes “broader lessons on mindful eating, with a focus on big picture issues like sustainable agriculture, sugar cravings, global food waste, animal production and food marketing and labeling.” The foodservice department also partnered with the Stanford School of Medicine Nutrition Studies Group to develop teaching kitchen programming.

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