The numerous benefits of cooking, from learning new skills, to boosting self-confidence, and bringing people together, have been in full swing at the Lorain County Community College (LCCC) Ben & Jane Norton Culinary Arts Center where a group of nearly 20 adults from the Lorain County Board of Developmental Disabilities Murray Ridge Center participated in a series of classes hosted by the LCCC Culinary Institute. The courses, funded by the Myrtle’s Endowment Fund through the Community Foundation of Lorain County, focus on basic cooking essentials and provide a way for citizens with disabilities to advocate for an independent life.
“We are so thankful to have been awarded the funding for these opportunities,” said Jessica Smith, Provider Compliance Manager at Lorain County Board of Developmental Disabilities. “Having classes like these allows for everyone to come together as a group and make friendships, learn new skills, and showcase their abilities.”
LCCC chef and culinary instructor, Lindsay Gerard, guided the group through the creation of a grilled chicken salad, complete with homemade ranch and balsamic dressings. Throughout the class, Gerard taught the participants several food preparation and safety rules, from how to chop vegetables to proper handling of raw chicken and grilling techniques. She said the lessons are lifelong and for everyone.
“It’s important for people to not be nervous and to feel comfortable in the kitchen,” Gerard said. “Learning basic cooking skills is a very good thing for anyone to know, whether it’s simple as making salads or going all out and making a nice dinner.”
Joanna Griffin, whose son Matthew attended the class, said she has tried to offer him cooking tips, but he hasn’t always been receptive to her advice.
“Teaching Matt to cook at home doesn’t work – he’s an adult and he doesn’t want me telling him what to do,” she said. “Here he can learn from a professional and hopefully have more confidence in the kitchen.”
Matthew, 30, admitted that using the stove can make him nervous. But midway through the class, under Gerard’s supervision, he was flipping chicken on the grill. And, after a mini lesson on ways in which meat lets the griller know it’s time to turn, Matthew did so at the precise time for maximum tenderness. It gave him an instant confidence boost.
“I just wanted to learn more and to get better skills,” Matthew said. “I don’t want to be afraid and I’m proud of myself that I came here and did that.”
At the end of the class, the students gathered around to admire the finished salad display, including several unique toppings like quinoa, roasted zucchini and squash, and pumpkin seeds. And then they dug in. The midday feast served as the culmination of the participants’ newfound skills, confidence, and teamwork.
“The most satisfying thing, when it comes to cooking, is always at the end,” Gerard said. “When they look at everything and think, I made this, or I chopped that. I hope they were proud of their collaborative effort.”
The group’s team effort also helped materialize one of the greatest benefits of a shared meal – bringing people together.
“It was fun today, because I got to see some of my friends,” said participant, Katie Weaver, 25. “And it seems like we’ve met many new people, too.”