Stanford Dining believes in the power of good food. And with the right partnerships, the California-based university believes it can positively impact the way students buy, cook and eat food for the better—and for the long term.
With this in mind, Residential & Dining Enterprises Stanford Dining partnered with celebrity chef and food activist Jamie Oliver to launch a new program called Jamie Oliver’s Cook Smart Program.
The goal of the program is simple—to teach even the most inexperienced student cooks how to make a healthy meal from scratch while instilling basic kitchen and food skills in a fun and engaging way.
“We also give students a good grounding in nutrition so they can better understand what they are putting in their bodies,” says Eric Montell, executive director of R&DE Stanford Dining. “By educating students about healthy menu choices and teaching them to prepare simple, delicious meals, we want to give them the confidence to cook for themselves and others.”
In the 2015 autumn quarter, Stanford offered three nine-week sessions of the new program with eight students in each session. For the winter 2016 quarter, dining services is offering four, nine-week sessions with eight students each.
Classes are held at the Teaching Kitchen @ Stanford, a state-of-the-art facility inside Arrillaga Family Dining Commons. The program is offered at no cost to students and does not yet count for college credits.
“Five of R&DE Stanford Dining’s chefs were trained and certified by the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation to teach the program,” Montell says. “During their training, the chefs were immersed in Oliver’s cookery and teachings and were given a clear understanding of his food ethos and philosophy, while also learning how to deliver the program using his style, tips, and clear and consistent nutrition messages.”
Classes meet once a week, with the first class focusing on basic kitchen and knife skills, then subsequent classes building upon each other until students have mastered core-cooking skills as well as a handful of recipes. These include tabbouleh, omelets, tomato soup, corn chowder, soda bread, meatballs and pasta, teriyaki-glazed salmon, Asian cucumber ribbon salad, vegetarian chili, Thai green chicken curry, sizzling beef with black bean sauce, egg-fried rice, berry ice cream and butternut squash muffins.
“So far, the classes have been going very well and have been really well received by the students,” Montell says.
Twenty-four students took the course during the 2015 autumn quarter. When students began the class, their skill levels in the kitchen ranged from no experience at all to limited cooking skills. After completing the course, all students said they felt more comfortable in the kitchen and are confident in cooking for themselves and others.
“Many students said they now enjoy cooking and are doing it more on their own,” Montell says. “They also indicated the program taught them healthy eating habits they are incorporating into their daily lives, such as portion control, having a balanced plate and using fresh ingredients to make easy and delicious home-cooked meals rather than opting for takeout and fast food.”
Classes are promoted in a number of different ways. There are articles about the classes and invitations to apply in the R&DE Stanford Dining newsletter distributed bi-monthly to all 11 of the school’s dining halls. R&DE Stanford Dining also uses social media, digital signage throughout all dining halls, flyers and its student dining ambassadors and interns to spread the word.
To gauge its effectiveness, research projects will be conducted around the engagement and impact of the program on participants, Montell adds. Researchers will monitor students who will be graduating and leaving Stanford and graduate students who have kitchens units in their housing with the objective of showing change over time in those exposed to the program, and the differences between those who engage in the program versus those who do not.
Additionally, R&DE Stanford Dining is building a sustainable model that can be replicated at schools across the country.
“These cooking classes build life skills, support community building, create a culture of health and wellness, and serve as a source of pride and comfort in food knowledge,” Montell says. “We believe this is a gateway to developing students’ interest in food nutrition and sustainability.”
Stanford's Sample Session
Each week Stanford students have a culinary lesson with a nutrition message to go along with it as part of the new cooking class program, Jamie Oliver’s Cook Smart Program. Here is the class curriculum:
Week 1 – Introduction/Salads: Intro to Oliver’s food and what he believes. Kitchen basics, knife skills and how to make a delicious salad with homemade dressing. Nutrition message: The five food groups.
Week 2 – Breakfast: Oliver’s way of making fast, easy and healthy breakfast. Nutrition message: The importance of breakfast.
Week 3 – Soups: Seasonal soup packed full of flavorful ingredients, and soda bread. Nutrition message: How to read a food label.
Week 4 – Pasta: Pasta cooked to perfection and a classic tomato sauce with homemade meatballs. Nutrition message: All about fat.
Week 5 – Seafood: How to buy, marinate and cook fish to perfection. Nutrition message: The health benefits of eating fish.
Week 6 – Vegetarian: How to master vegetarian cooking. Nutrition message: Vegetarian sources of protein.
Week 7 – Poultry: Chicken curry using fresh herbs and spices to make your own curry paste from scratch. Nutrition message: Salt and sodium.
Week 8 – Stir-fry: How to master a quick and nutritious stir-fry. Nutrition message: The importance of fruit and vegetables.
Week 9 – Desserts: Simple home-cooked desserts and a quick ice cream. Nutrition message: All about sugar.