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

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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.

On the day the teens made the mozzarella sticks, the theme of the day was dairy.

Bracy talked about how dairy helps their bones grow, gives them healthy teeth and aids their nerves and muscles. They need three cups of dairy a day, "and it doesn't have to always be milk," she told them. "It can be a slice and a half of cheese or so, or it can be a nice cup of yogurt."

"Think of it like this: It's like putting money in the bank," she said. "If each day you get your dairy servings, three a day, it's like putting money in the bank so that when you get up to age 30 and 50, you're going to have nice hard, solid bone."


But lectures only go so far. What really impressed the class were the demonstrations. Bracy and Allen held up test tubes filled with a white substance to illustrate how much fat is in whole milk compared with 1 percent, 2 percent and skim.

Allen also covered soda by holding up different sized bottles and letting the students guess how many teaspoons of sugar were in each. They seem shocked to learn that a 20-ounce soda can contain as much as 21 teaspoons of sugar.

The demonstration that wows them the most, however, is the one the teachers have come to call "Blubber Burger." They hand the students a chart that shows the amount of fat in typical fast-food meals. The students pick out their favorite fast food, then they're told to take a tablespoon and spread the equivalent amount of shortening on a slice of bread. "That's what you're eating," Allen tells them.

The students' reaction? "They're thoroughly disgusted," Allen said.

The Blubber Burger and soda exercises are done across all age groups, "and every time, it's a huge eye-opening experience," Miale said.

Corey Watson, 13, said the classes have gotten through to him "how healthy some foods can be and how bad some foods can be."

Since he started the class, Watson has been experimenting with his diet, purposefully trying vegetables he's never had before to see if he likes them. "I've tried lettuce and I've tried some peppers – green pepper, red pepper," he said. "I've tried onions."

Spinach, he's concluded, is just "OK."


The last class in the teen series is a "Top Chef"-style challenge where the students cook their favorite recipe from the class for judging.

The recipes used in the classes are in a handbook that each student gets to keep. Chefs are welcome to substitute their own recipe, but each meal must be healthy and cost no more than $2 per person. Fancy ingredients (and the fancy equipment to prepare them) are not allowed.

"For the adults class, we do a little more focus on food budgeting, planning your meals, and buying by unit price and things like that," Miale said.

Adults learn how to break down a whole chicken in one class. After making chicken nuggets with the meat, Miale said, "we show them the leftover chicken 'bleh' – what's left over after we've done everything with the chicken – and we tell them, 'That's what's in the chicken nuggets that you're buying,' and they're disgusted."

Label reading and deciphering the marketing hype on products is usually a big lesson for adults, Miale said. On week five of the adults' class, there's a field trip to the grocery store.

"We take them down the bread aisle and say, 'OK, find me whole grain,' " Miale said. "The bread aisle is overwhelming sometimes."

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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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