Science and History of Food
Dana Van Reeth
By Dana Van Reeth
Social Studies Teacher  
 
January 22, 2019  
 
Forest Ridge’s first semester (Fall 2018) of The Theory of Food Class wrapped up with students cooking and presenting information to family and faculty during a Sunday Brunch. It has been an adventurous class! But what exactly happened during this almost 3-hour class? Perhaps a walk-through is in order.  
 
It is 7:45 a.m. on a Monday morning. Behind the scenes in the Commons Kitchen, Chef Ron Askew is prepping for the morning Theory of Food cooking class. Depending on the day, Stacy or Marissa, two of his kitchen staff who have an amazing depth of culinary education between them, may assist him. Meeting them are Corina Rahmig, Science Teacher, and myself, Dana Van Reeth, Social Studies Teacher. Together, we walk an array of supplies up to the dorm kitchen -- blackberries for jam, cucumbers for pickles, cabbage for sauerkraut, fall vegetables from the Forest Ridge gardens for soup or polenta, flour for bread, Alaska salmon to sauté or pork roasts to rub with spices, to name a few.  
 
We arrive in the spacious dorm kitchen and start setting up. Four bins with student supplies come out, burners are set up, cutting boards laid out. Chef Ron instructs what utensils should be at each place and goes over the plan for the lesson with the teachers, who peruse the recipe. Just when everything is in place, the 11 students for this inaugural cooking class arrive. Students are reminded to tie their hair back, don their team aprons and study the recipe. Chef Ron reads this over with the students and demonstrates what they will be doing as they all gather around and watch. He goes over the what and why of everything at their team station and then invites them to gather the right food ingredients to begin. Mise en place (translation from French “everything in place”), Chef Ron reminds them, and all will go much more smoothly.  
 
The students begin chopping, heating, melting, mixing ingredients while Chef Ron floats around the kitchen, observing, commenting…
 
“Your burner might be a little high”
“Easy on the cloves, they can overpower”
“Clean as you go”
“Try adding some ginger for extra flavor”
“Fresh lemon makes just about everything taste better”
“Keep stirring…add a little more liquid”
“I think that burned…let’s start over”
“Let me show you a safer way to peel that apple”
“Save the scraps, we’ll use them in a broth later”  
 
And on and on – he shares little nuggets of information that are having lifelong impacts on these students, their interaction with food and how they cook.  
 
Most of the time the recipes reach completion by the end of class. Sometimes, they simmer or go into the oven and will be ready during the second portion of the class. During and after, tasting begins. Results are shared among the four groups of students. There are always oohs and aahs, resulting from a blend of good ingredients and instruction, food history, tradition and a dose of fun.  
 
Pans and utensils are washed and laid out to dry, counters are wiped and Chef Ron and his staff head back to continue their day prepping lunch for the rest of the student body. The girls take a break between classes and then re-assemble for the lecture portion of this class -- sometimes in the science lab, taught by Ms. Rahmig or myself. What will it be? What did we eat 500 years ago? How has this food changed? Or a science perspective that asks: what is the Maillard reaction? What are macronutrients? How does the food we eat affect our microbiome? The class might also discuss an environmental and social perspective such as What are food deserts? How impactful are food miles? What about food waste? Is soil depletion a problem? All the while, we look at solutions to these issues.  
 
Sometime toward the end of the day, Mr. Rahmig or myself will go up to the dorm kitchen to put away dishes left to dry on the counter, put bins back in their cupboard and double-check to make sure the kitchen is spic and span once again. Mise en place.
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