Students don't always come to college with culinary skills. But many who come to Lynn University are learning their way around the kitchen during their time on-campus. In conjunction with dining contractor Sodexo, the Boca Raton, FL-based college offers chef-led cooking classes aimed at helping young adults boost their confidence in the kitchen.
The program, called Kitchen Academy, was launched in the fall of 2020 and has steadily grown in popularity. "Lynn University and dining services are hoping to connect to its community through food," says dining services director of operations Tracy Miller. "Allowing students to get involved in programs like these promotes collaboration along with practical skills students can take with them long after graduation."
Kitchen Academy classes, which typically run about two hours, offer a mix of demonstrations and hands-on learning. Geared towards beginners, the goal is to first show students what to do - then give them a chance to try it themselves. Each class centers around preparing a specific dish, such as sushi, crepes, and breakfast items. Chef Instructor Juan Ramos kicks things off by introducing himself along with the ingredients and kitchen tools the class will be using. "He'll demo making the dish and then students have the opportunity to try it for themselves," Miller says. "He oversees them as they prep and cook, and they have the option the make substitutions as they cook."
The approach means that students don't just learn how to make a single recipe. They're exposed to broad culinary skills that can be used to make a wide range of dishes. Safe knife skills are among the most important. "Chef Juan really gets into safety standards and the proper way to use a knife," says Miller. "When he's demoing, he might show a more efficient, safer way to cut something and why it's better."
But that's not all. With the program's start-to-finish approach, students get the opportunity to learn about selecting quality ingredients and how to clean and prepare them before cooking. Proper cooking temperatures is another important topic. "The program teaches students what protein temperatures should look like along with how to test a protein for their preference," Miller explains.
Ramos and students take time to thoughtfully plate the food once a dish is finished. "The students are also taught about food presentation and how people eat with their eyes," Miller says. And then, finally, it's time to eat. All of the cooked meals, including Ramos's are available for everyone to try and enjoy. Eating together gives the students and Ramos a chance to get to know each other better, serving to strengthen Lynn's community relationships.
Kitchen Academy sessions occur throughout the semester and students can sign up for classes individually. "We'll advertise the program on campus," says Miller. "Depending on the area and location we reserve, we try to limit it to around 10 students. But it depends on the product and what we're prepping that day. We like to keep it personal."
The classes do more than equip students with culinary know-how. Teaching young adults the skills they need to prepare their own meals provides the foundation for healthy eating. "They can continue to utilize our recipes away from the program. This fosters healthy living on campus, since students can cook in some of the dorms," Miller says. And it can potentially serve as a springboard for students to get involved in the food world, perhaps by pursuing a culinary career of their own.
Kitchen Academy has been a popular program. Classes fill up quickly, and students are eager to share their thoughts after spending time with Ramos. "Every class we've done has had positive feedback. They'll go ahead and tell us new options they'd like to try in future classes, like quesadillas or pasta," says Miller.