Students are making marvelous meals with meager means NOW THEY'RE COOKING

March 04, 1994|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Sun Staff Writer

In the kitchen of a former church in East Baltimore, a handful of neighborhood women and two master chefs from Stouffer Harborplace Hotel are sharing recipes and nutrition philosophies.

The women are the first Baltimore students to enter Operation Frontline cooking school, a six-week program run by the national hunger relief organization Share Our Strength. The privately funded program enlists top chefs to teach cooking and nutrition to those who may receive public or private food assistance.

Once a week, Stouffer executive chef Guy Reinbold and Windows Restaurant chef Jay Swift show their students how to shop prudently and healthfully; how to fix quick, inexpensive and tasty dinners; and how to feel more like food masters and less like short-order cooks.

This morning, for instance, the class is learning to prepare healthy snacks for kids. Arlene Zapata, who has four children aged 3 to 15, pays close attention to the suggestions for enlivening fruits and vegetables. Her eyes light up as Mr. Reinbold makes a palm tree from a carrot and a pepper. She carves carrot flowers, dresses up celery and samples a tangy vegetable dip with tomatoes, yogurt and Cheddar cheese. She discovers that a bowl of apple-celery-raisin salad can look as appealing as a bowl of Cheese Doodles.

Mr. Reinbold introduces a platter with skewers of fresh fruit. "They look like Popsicles to children -- but they are good for them."

"My kids are going to like this a lot," Mrs. Zapata predicts.

"I've found that the more people think that something looks different and interesting, the more they eat it," Mr. Reinbold says. "People eat with their eyes."

Baltimore is the second city to introduce Operation Frontline; SOS completed its first six cooking programs in Washington last fall. Although the program is still in its pilot stage, Operation Frontline expects to begin similar classes in Denver, Detroit, Seattle, Boston, Los Angeles and New York by the end of the year, says program director Hadley Boyd.

Different from nutrition outreach programs such as Super Pantry -- a food education and life skills program run by the Maryland Food Committee -- Operation Frontline reflects SOS's history of finding ways for the restaurant industry to help the hungry and homeless.

"It's a great opportunity for chefs to get involved in hands-on experience with people who are having problems getting enough food on their tables," says Linda Eisenberg, executive director of the Maryland Food Committee.

In each target city, chefs volunteer to teach courses at community outreach centers chosen by SOS on the basis of their locations, community programs and abilities to reinforce nutritional lessons. The centers then recruit students from their regular clientele. In order to ensure that students receive individual attention, each class has no more than a dozen participants.

The class in East Baltimore is held at The Door, a converted church on North Chester Street that serves community youths and their families. Bethel Teen Parenting Enrichment Place on McCulloh Street has just started a class taught by chef Regina Baratta of Linwood's Grille & Cafe and Patrick Kearney of Sfuzzi. A third class, run by Randy Stahl of the Brass Elephant and Michael Rork of Harbor Court Hotel, begins next week at Park Heights Community Center on Spring Hill Avenue.Cooking kits

In addition to receiving class instruction and folders containing recipes and cooking and nutrition tips, the students take home shopping bags filled with all the ingredients they used to prepare that week's classroom recipes.

In fact, they have everything they need to re-create recipes in their own kitchens: Mr. Reinbold and Mr. Swift also have provided each woman with a chef's knife and a paring knife -- students learn how to use the right knife for the right job -- a cutting board, a meat thermometer and a vegetable peeler.

And the homework has paid off. Veronica Saunders brags about how much her three children liked the fancy ring of Spanish rice she made the other night. So did Laverne McDowell's son. The roast chicken they served was a big hit, too, the women tell the chefs.

All the recipes used were created by Mr. Reinbold and Mr. Swift exclusively for this Baltimore class.

"For me, the immediate gratification in this Operation Frontline program is better than anything I've ever done," Mr. Reinbold says. "We've done things for fund-raisers to support this program or that program, but you really never see the end results. This is a humility check, making sure you really understand what's going on in people's lives. And I'm having fun doing this. It gets you back to realizing what you're in the business for."

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