JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Ramen noodles and frozen dinners may be a thing of the past for East Tennessee State University students thanks to Kitchen Possible.
Four students made a stir-fry meal on Feb. 17 as part of the Kitchen Possible initiative by the ETSU Department of Housing and Residence Life. It is co-sponsored by the department and Sodexo campus dining services to teach students how to cook.
Students who had little expertise in the kitchen said the program helped them feel more comfortable cooking.
“It was really eye-opening for me because I realized how easy it is, and it’s fun,” said Isaac Fox, a freshman who participated. “They guide us through … and make it look so effortless.”
Mary Dave Blackman founded Kitchen Possible to teach ETSU residents basic cooking skills and meal preparation. Many residence halls on campus offer at least one kitchen area for students, so they can take Kitchen Possible classes to learn how to use the facilities.
Participating students were given an apron, utensils, cutting board, hot plate and pan. Ingredients were laid out in advance for the students to choose for their stir-fry dish, and a recipe was given as a class guide.
Students began by cutting the vegetables they wanted for their dish. Blackman and two student assistants helped the Kitchen Possible participants use knives properly.
“We teach them how to cut their vegetables [and] how not to cut themselves,” said Ellis Waddell, student assistant to Blackman.
Blackman said multiple times her primary goal was to teach students to cook in a safe way.
Once the vegetables were cut, student assistants prepped the pan and hot plates with cooking oil for participants.
Blackman explained to students the best way to know oil is heated to the right temperature for cooking is when it shimmers — a tip, she noted, most people don’t know.
The students stir-fried their vegetables in garlic and one of two sauces they could make: orange-soy or ginger-soy.
Many students having lunch in the Marketplace stopped to ask about Kitchen Possible and what was being made. Some suggested they would be interested in getting involved in the program after seeing the class in action. The strong smell from the stir-fry drew a lot of the curiosity.
Once the meals were cooked, the students sat down to eat them together. Some students had enough to take with them for another meal.
Blackman is a professor and coordinator of instrumental music education. Band students told her they lacked cooking skills, and she came up with the idea of teaching students to cook on campus.
“One of them said, ‘Gosh, I wish I knew how to cook,’” said Blackman about her students. “I thought, ‘I wonder if there’s a way we could make it so we could have some cooking classes on campus?’”
Blackman approached the housing department in 2011 with her idea and offered to teach the classes herself for free. The department agreed to sponsor and facilitate the classes for students who live on campus.
Kitchen Possible is a series of five classes each semester. Students learn to make a new dish each class that they can recreate on their own.
Two classes are held on Fridays in the Marketplace on the third floor of the Culp Center. The first class is at 1:30 p.m. followed by another at 3 p.m. Each class hosts four students.
Campus residents receive registration information through email at the beginning of each semester. Students must commit to all classes for the semester, and seats are available to those who sign up first. Students are put on a waiting list for the class if they do not get a seat. If someone drops the course after the first session, they can be added.
Adrianna Guram, Kitchen Possible coordinator from the housing department, estimated the cost of the program is $60-70 per class, but it is covered by the collaboration with Sodexo.
“Sodexo is supplying all the food,” Guram said.
The collaboration has allowed Kitchen Possible to save money on the program by using campus dining service ingredients rather than paying with funds from the housing department.
Participants said their specialties before the class were foods like cereal and Chef Boyardee. Since the program’s start, they collectively agreed Kitchen Possible has enhanced their cooking abilities and confidence.
“I can make [a meal] now … with a recipe,” said Amelia Lambert, a participating sophomore.