May 1, 2008

 


Now They’re Cookin’

ChefYou! Students Busy Learning to Cook Healthy Low-Fat Cuisine

By Bonnie Russell TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF


UXBRIDGE— Fee! Fie! Foe! Fummy! I smell the ingredients of something yummy. Be it stuffed ravioli or tamales supreme; I’ll lower the fat in this cuisine.

While his students aren’t giants in the fairytale sense, George Malavasic believes that knowing how to cook empowers youngsters to make healthy choices.

Mr. Malavasic is a Johnson & Wales University culinary nutrition intern who is working in the food services area of the Uxbridge public schools this spring. He has taught cooking classes for middle school students enrolled in Chef You!, a course offered by the Uxbridge After Hours Program, an after-school enrichment program for Uxbridge students.


The 90-minute cooking classes were held on Thursdays for six weeks in the Taft Elementary School Kitchen. Chef George, as Mr. Malavasic is known to his students, received an associate degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University in Providence and has almost completed a bachelor’s degree in nutrition. Nutrition is incorporated into every lesson. “We always start off with the traditional method, and then after I teach them to make substitutions,” he said.

The young chefs have made ravioli with whole-wheat pasta and learned about the health value of boiling and steaming the stuffed squares of dough rather than frying them. They also prepared pumpkin brûlée, a lower-fat version of crème brûlée.

Not only do the six aspiring cooks get to measure, mix and stir the ingredients, they are allowed to suggest what they would like to make.

“At the end of each class I ask what they want to make next week. I let them decide and then I throw them a nutrition curve,” Mr. Malavasic said.

For example, they requested to learn how to make Mexican food in the next class, he said.

“I think they were envisioning nachos and burritos, but I will teach them to make tamales.”

The process includes allowing the corn husk-wrapped tamales to soak, boil and then simmer as part of the cooking. The students will prepare a special sofrito sauce from fresh vegetables and cilantro and apply it to black bean and cheese tamales.

Sixth-grader Chelsea Berlinguet and fifth-grader Alexis Berlinguet, students at Whitin Middle School, are participating in the cooking class.

And, according to the sisters, the healthy tamales came out great.

“Everything Chef George cooks with is absolutely healthy. He is the best chef in the world besides my mom,” Alexis said.

The girls’ mother, Jalene Berlinguet, isn’t a professional chef but she is in the food service industry, working as a public school cafeteria manager. She also is helping in an art class in the Uxbridge After Hours program, and because of that, has been able to taste some of the food made in the cooking class.

“I swear to you the pumpkin brûlée was to die for,” Mrs. Berlinguet said.

“We also had a chocolate tasting,” Chelsea said.

Mr. Malavasic began cooking with his parents as a child and starting cooking professionally at 16. He is a chef at Trinity Brewhouse in Providence, and in addition to cooking, has authored menu versions at the restaurant.

“I abandoned a career track in chemistry for the culinary field because I was enjoying myself so much,” Mr. Malavasic said.

And he also enjoys passing the knowledge on to the four girls and two boys in his cooking class. “It is what I look forward to each week,” he said.

Chelsea and Alexis said they cook at home and plan to try some of the recipes, and maybe even pursue a career in food services.

“This really is a fantastic experience for these kids, one not often seen in schools, because Chef George is highly experienced in culinary. He also always makes sure he exposes them to a healthier way to eat in each of his lessons, imparting his nutrition knowledge as well. We are very fortunate to have him here,” said Janice Watt, food service director for Uxbridge and Hopedale public schools, in a prepared statement.

“Extending learning beyond the classroom through enrichment activities is a goal of Uxbridge After Hours,” said Karin D. Knapik, director of grants and community enrichment for Uxbridge public schools.

The program offers courses for students, before and after school, of all ages in a range of subjects and continues through the summer. Funding is provided through donations, grants and the course fees. CLICK HERE FOR RECIPES .... >>

For more information or to register, call (508) 278-0553 or visit the Web site www.uxbridgeschools.com and click on community enrichment.