November 3, 2010

Soup to Nuts: DO try this at home

Local chefs are jumping on board a new program to teach families on a limited budget that healthy, good-tasting cooking CAN happen in their own kitchens.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

click image to enlarge

Chef James Tranchemontagne of the Frog and Turtle and the French Press Eatery restaurants in Westbrook says being involved in the Cooking Matters program is “like a dream come true.” Here he looks on as Corey Watson, 13, and Kristen Wiggins, 12, work on a marinara sauce. Below, Tranchemontagne and Amber Weitzell, 12, add the onions.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Chef James Tranchemontagne and Amber Weitzell, 12, add the onions to a marinara sauce.

Additional Photos Below


COOKING MATTERS to Maine is looking for chefs and class assistants to help teach classes. Kristen Miale, the program director, welcomes chefs from chain restaurants, especially in areas outside of Portland. Class assistants don't need any culinary or nutritional training. It's a great way to work alongside some of the area's best chefs. Upcoming classes in Auburn and Biddeford especially need volunteers. If you're interested, contact Miale at 423-5166 or e-mail her at Here's the current class schedule:

Boys & Girls Club, South Portland, class for kids taught by Barbara Bloomgren, SMCC culinary student, 4 to 6 p.m. Thursdays, last class Thursday.

Casco Village Church, Casco, class for adults taught by Linda Manchester, the Good Life Market, 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Dec. 8 (no class Nov. 24).

Parkside Neighborhood Center, Portland, class for adults taught by Chef Jeff Landry, the Farmer's Table, 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Dec. 6.

Boys & Girls Club, Auburn, class for kids taught by Tony Gioia, retired chef, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Tuesday to Dec. 21 (no class Nov. 23).

Joyful Harvest, Biddeford, class for teens taught by Chef Larry Matthews, Back Bay Grill, 5 to 7 p.m Wednesdays, Nov. 10 to Dec. 22 (no class Nov. 24).


SURVEYS ARE CONDUCTED at the end of each series of Cooking Matters classes to see if there have been any behavioral changes and to gauge which classes are most effective nationally. Here are some results from the first two programs at the Bridgton Food Pantry.

By the end of the course, participants reported that:

43 percent are eating more vegetables.

31 percent are eating more fruit.

79 percent are eating more whole grains.

35 percent are eating more lean meats.

39 percent are drinking more water.

4 percent none of these.

87 percent improved their cooking skills.

100 percent made an Eating Right recipe at home.

100 percent would recommend Eating Right to a friend.

WESTBROOK — Stephen Foster, 11, was pretty convinced that taking a cooking class was going to be boring.

But then he got a knife in his hand and found that he likes chopping fresh garlic to make marinara sauce.

Here's the budding chef's review of a stir-fry, which he recently tried for the first time: "I don't know what it's called, but it's a whole bunch of vegetables mixed together. And it was really good because I thought I didn't like vegetables, but it turns out I did."

What's caused this transformation? Foster signed up for a new program called Cooking Matters to Maine, a project developed by Share Our Strength, a national organization that works to fight hunger.

Cooking Matters recruits local culinary and nutrition professionals to teach low-income families on a limited budget how to prepare nutritious meals that also taste good.

There are 27 Cooking Matters programs already functioning around the country. In June, the Maine chapter of Share Our Strength launched its own program in partnership with the Good Shepherd Food Bank and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Hannaford provides all the food, including bags of groceries that families can take home with them so they can cook the meal they've just learned how to make at home.

There are classes for adults, teens, children, parents and children together, and one for teenage parents. Each six-week series of classes is taught by a chef, a nutrition educator and a volunteer.

"The nutrition educator we know is vital, but it's the chef who really is the star of the show, especially with the kids," said Kristen Miale, program director for Cooking Matters in Maine. "They just love having the chef. And it's great, because it really engages the restaurant community in fighting hunger."


At a recent class for teenagers at Mission Possible in Westbrook, Chef James Tranchemontagne of the Frog and Turtle and the French Press Eatery restaurants said the program is "like a dream come true for me."

Tranchemontagne was already on the board of Mission Possible, which feeds 30 to 50 kids a day, so it was a no-brainer for him to volunteer to teach a series of Cooking Matters classes at the teen center. Although he already knows and has worked with many of his students, even his eyes were opened when he started talking about food with them.

"We were here the other day; I couldn't believe it – three kids didn't know what a zucchini was," he said. "I'm like, 'What do you mean, you don't know what a zucchini is?' That's insane. That's not a hard vegetable, you know? We bring in a papaya or a mango, I understand. But a zucchini?"

Tranchemontagne said the kids always begin by complaining about the food they're making -- homemade granola is not a teenager's snack of choice -- but usually by the end of the class, "they're wolfing it down."

One week they made a Tex-Mex dish, "and they said, 'I like Taco Bell.' "

"I said, 'This is the same thing as Taco Bell, but we're using fresh meat, we're using good cheese, we're using good spices,' " Tranchemontagne recalled. "And then they're like, 'Wow, this is much better.' It's nice to see them kind of wake up."

Last week, Tranchemontagne made marinara sauce and mozzarella sticks as well as oatmeal-raisin cookies.

When the children are not in the kitchen, they're getting lessons from Brenda Bracy, a nutrition associate with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and Anastasiya Allen, a student in dietetic technology at Southern Maine Community College.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Brenda Bracy shares her knowledge of nutrition with Kristen Wiggins, 12, Corey Watson, 13, and Stephen Foster, 11.


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