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For those still intimidated by the idea of shopping for meals at the Farmer’s Market, Molly Clauhs and Chris McKellar of the Grand Rapids Cooking School are offering classes that they've designed in an effort to help people discover just how easy and fun it can be to eat local and healthy. They started offering classes in April of last year and so far have had a wide range of classes to appeal to a variety of tastes, with everything from Japanese Home Cooking, Vegan and Gluten Free Baking to Pig Butchering 101.
According to Clauhs, the classes are based around the concept that eating is something that people will always have to do as long as they are alive and so it might as well be as enjoyable and healthy of an experience as possible.
“I find that we get so busy that we’re running out the door and we’re eating crappy food and we don’t really care,” says Clauhs, “Food takes the back stage we don’t sit down for dinner, we don’t grow food, we don’t care as much. And I really want to see people getting connected and caring and having food be something positive.”
A recent class was entitled the Farmer’s Market Experience. The sold-out class met at the entrance to the Fulton Street Farmers Market at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and started with trying old-fashioned organic oatmeal or an Egg Sammy from the Silver Spork food truck, which is Clauhs’ other business.
Local food expert Lisa Starner spoke to the group about the book she is working on, which focuses on the local food movement in West Michigan. She recommended that the participants in the class bring others along with them on their journey of learning about healthful local food.
“That’s how change is made,” says Starner, “It’s incremental and it’s not overnight and we have so much work to do in our food system. Don’t let it overwhelm you when you get back to your kitchen and look in your refrigerator and are like holy crap…where does this come from?” Starner stressed the idea of taking small steps and not getting hung up on doing everything perfectly right off the bat when it comes to food.
“The food system is very large and it’s very overwhelming," says Starner. "But this whole corridor [of the Farmer’s Market] is filled with good people that have the best of intentions to take care of our community.”
As the group wandered through the market, Clauhs stopped to introduce the class to trusted farmers that produced the food she and McKellar bought for the cooking portion of the class.
Rakowski Farm was the first stop for milk, cheese and chickens. Next stop was Wells Orchards for peaches and Real Food Farm for tomatoes. Then the group stopped at Visser Farms for onions, lettuce, and carrots. The last stop was Groundswell Farm for herbs, eggplant, zucchini, garlic and green peppers. After the shopping was completed everyone headed to Uptown Kitchen for the cooking class.
At the class, McKellar demonstrated how to properly break down the chicken. After the demonstration, everyone was divided into small groups to prepare all the different items of the three course menu, including heirloom tomato tartlets with cheddar cheese, a salad with cherry tomatoes and a honey vinaigrette, ratatouille with baked polenta and herb lemon chicken. The meal was to be capped off with roasted peach streusel with almond whipped cream for dessert.
“Hopefully [the people that come to our classes] have a good time and enjoy a good meal. They see the way that food can come together from scratch really quite easily and it takes like one hour or an hour and a half and we have a really nice three course meal,” says Clauhs.
People in the class were all at different experience levels when it came to cooking. Professor Robert Eames of Calvin College, a GR Cooking school veteran, had the job of helping Mr. McKellar with the chickens. Even though Eames did not have much experience when he first started coming to the classes, he has developed a passion to learn.
“I love cooking and I love food but I haven’t had a lot of formal training... I’ve sort of done it on my own by buying The Art of French Cooking and reading that and watching YouTube videos. So when I met [Clauhs and McKellar] it was exciting to think about coming and taking a few classes where I could not only learn about the food but then learn how to prepare it well and have both the opportunity to watch but then get my hands dirty and do it in a real relaxed and social setting too,” says Eames.
“Those are people we can go back to,” said Jean Brummitt, who attended the class with her mother Jean Sequite. “Hearing [about] the relationships that they have with the farmers is really a magical thing. I mean if you think about where that food is coming from and we just had a beautiful meal…it’s awesome.” Both Brummitt and Sequite agreed that this was their favorite cooking class they have attended together.
McKellar says they try to foster a fun, casual atmosphere because they know how daunting it can be for people to get into the kitchen to make meals.
"We're just here to encourage people and show them some things that we've learned and that's what I think people would take interest in."
According to Clauhs, what makes the classes so attractive to people is the fact that, “[attendees] talk to people, no one’s on their cell phones, there’s no computers, we’re cooking in the class and we’re talking about food. I think that’s energizing.”
There are still more opportunities to participate in a hands on cooking class with GR Cooking School before the summer is over, with upcoming classes happening this Friday night (Southern Fare Beyond Compare) and Sunday August 26 (Scratch Cooking for the Busy Family). The Grand Rapids Cooking School website has all scheduled class times and information.
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