Whatever happened to Home Ec?  I know, I know…it was a sexist institution that went the way of the dodo.  Here’s what I’m wondering though…when did we stop teaching our youth how to feed themselves?  There are kids who get to college and the extent of their culinary repertoire is Mac and Cheese….not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Maybe it’s time we revamp Home Ec. and bring it into the 21st century.  Maybe we need a basic culinary arts class in schools.  Maybe I should stop starting sentences with the word “maybe.”

All these thoughts were swimming in my noggin while I was participating in a charity cooking competition:  The L.A. Spotlight on Childhood Hunger.   A number of established chefs from around the city gathered to cook with a team of elementary, middle, and high school students from the LAUSD.  My team consisted of seven whip-smart young’uns, ranging from 9-16 and together we prepared a healthy and easy to prepare meal from a basket of mystery ingredients (Ala Chopped).

The massive basket included (and of course we had to use ALL the ingredients):  chicken breasts, enoki mushrooms, carrots, red onion, avocado, potato, spinach, lemon-poppy seed dressing, tomatoes, teriyaki sauce, cashew butter, almond butter, capers, canned tuna, garlic, wonton wrappers and frickin’ marinara sauce.  Apparently the judges really wanted to see some Italian-Asian fusion cuisine.  In the one hour of cooking time we prepared chicken breasts seared in cashew and almond butters and then braised in a tonnato sauce (marinara, tuna, caper, lemon zest, thyme and basil).  We sauteed the potatoes, carrots, red onion, garlic, and enoki mushrooms, rolled them up in the wontons which were then crisped in the pan.  The rolls were placed on a spinach and avocado salad with a lemon-poppy seed and teriyaki dressing that we added lots of fresh herbs too.  Not to brag or anything…but what you see before you was the winning dish for the lunch category (Wes breathes on finger nails and then buffs them on shirt while making really stupid/snooty face).  Seriously though, my team was amazing and they really did 90% of the work.  I just had to plan the dish and delegate…the kids took care of the rest.  It even seemed like they had fun.  If these kids can throw together a damn good meal with just a little guidance, think what they could do if they actually did it in class everyday.

So head on over to www.afcla.org to check out other cool projects from the American Culinary Federation and start demanding that schools aren’t just giving their students healthy lunches, but also teaching them how to prepare healthy meals for themselves.  Then maybe we can start the process of NOT being the most obese country in the world.