The Vetri Mobile Teaching Lab offers fresh takes on holiday sides at East Passyunk Community Center
By Bill Gelman
Face it, when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, families have their traditional menu with the turkey, sweet potato pie, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Call it the same old holiday routine.
On Thursday, at the East Passyunk Community Center, 1025 Mifflin St., a small group of young chefs along with some adults learned that there is nothing wrong with adding a fresh twist to the Thanksgiving menu.
While the holiday meal is traditionally prepared in the kitchen, this afternoon outing drew a small crowd as a result of the The Vetri Mobile Teaching Lab pulling up to the East Passyunk Crossing site. The traveling kitchen comes complete with tables, cooking equipment, speakers and more. During the monthly visits, people learn about how to consume more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as fewer processed, high-sugar junk food items. Unlike “Hell’s Kitchen,” participants did not have to learn about a celebrity chef such as Gordon Ramsay yelling at them for messing up a dish. One of the goals of the program is to help participants gain the confidence to cook at home while connecting them to the resources that provide access to real, fresh food.
Rec Leader Natalie Felix DiDonato said everyone enjoyed last week’s session.
“They did a really amazing job,” she said, “They were doing Thanksgiving sides, butternut squash, spinach and cabbage.”
Sure, they may not have made the menu for many people hosting tomorrow night’s holiday dinner, but there are likely more people willing to try these dishes following last week’s 20-minute class.
“I think the people were definitely excited about getting new ideas for Thanksgiving,” DiDonato said, “One of the dishes had cabbage, something people normally do not associate with Thanksgiving.
“I think they had a new appreciation for it and really enjoyed it.”
Cooking classes are becoming part of the regular offerings at the center. One of the board members, Margaret Kalalian, proposed the idea of reaching out to the Vetri Community Partnership about bringing its cooking lab to the site.The program lasts 10 weeks, and a group of 13 home-schooled children have been participating.
The Mobile Teaching Kitchen sets up once a month at the East Passyunk Community Center, and brings different ingredients and recipes to help make the concept of cooking fun. The next class is set up for Dec. 11 from 4 to 6 p.m., with another one scheduled for Jan. 24.
Being a vegetarian, DiDonato said she would definitely make the dishes from last week’s class.
“It’s really simple what they did,” she said. “It comes out tasty and really delicious.”
The classes may not serve as a training ground to recruit the next “MasterChef Junior” contestant, but they do offer a fun and education experience outside of school.
“The greatest thing about it is it’s opening their minds to what they can create,” DiDonato said.
Besides the classes, Share Food Program’s Mobile Farm Stand comes onsite with the teaching lab. Community members can pre-order packages through EPCC ($20 for a box of food that includes meat, eggs and produce — worth $40). It is available for pick up during Mobile Teaching hours, as well as individual items from the farm stand at discounted prices with SNAP benefit cards, cash or credit cards. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215–685–0008.