Young Chefs: College Explorations Fieldtrip

On a college campus, it is not often that you hear fond recollections of middle school dances. It is even more seldom to hear these dances being discussed in tandem with bruschetta. However, when the twenty young chefs descended upon the Carleton campus, these topics temporarily became the greatest points of conversation. SInce it was the last week of young chefs of the term, we decided to give the middle schoolers a change of scenery by inviting them to Carleton.

The field trip began with a scavenger hunt around the Carleton campus. Students divided into two teams and each given a list of clues for locations on the campus. These stops included the café, center for civic and community engagement (where much of the work for young chefs is done), the library and math center.  At each location, they received one ingredient which would be incorporated into the mystery food that they were going to cook at the end of the hunt. Playing to their competitive sides, we made it a race between the two teams to get to the end. The students were thrilled by this aspect and insisted on sprinting to every location. Though they were hurried, to say the least, in transit between the stops, they slowed down considerably to appreciate each location.

At the café they were amazed by the array of bake goods and speculated what it would be like to have so many options available on a daily basis. In the library, they got to see the recently added cookbook section. Each grabbed a cookbook off the shelf and poured through the recipes, gawking at the different dishes. The differences in the cookbooks sparked conversation about the differences in cuisine across the world. Before progressing from the library, they were faced with the ultimate challenge– utter silence while walking through the first (silent) floor of the library. The scavenger hunt culminated in the biology building where the students got to tour a lab. As they walked by the equipment, we had casual conversations with them about what different machines do.

After concluding the scavenger hunt, we headed to a kitchen to make use of the the bread, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and herbs that that they had collected. The students predicted that we would be making sandwiches, which wasn’t too far from the truth. We were actually having a lesson on bruschetta which was their “next guess”, even though they weren’t entirely clear on what bruschetta was.  As a group, we made four different types of bruschetta– one was with pesto and red peppers, another with caramelized onion, sautéed mushrooms and goat cheese, a caprese type and a dessert bruschetta with mascarpone, blackberries and a mint simple syrup. With the help of volunteers, two or three students worked on each of the different components of the bruschetta. When everything was prepared, each student made one of each type and was challenged to do so in a way that was aesthetically pleasing. There was no universal favorite, but all were well liked. Furthermore, the kids loved tasting and comparing the cheeses used.

Though there was no structured scientific component of the lesson, it was apparent that they had begun to take the connection between food and science to heart. As we cooked they posed questions about why onions make people cry and the nutritional value of different components of mushrooms.

Though slightly chaotic at times, overall it was extremely fun to give the students a slice of our life and see all the energy and joy they carried in exploring. Perhaps more significantly, it was incredibly rewarding to see the impact of the program in sparking voluntary discussions and genuine curiosity about science, food preparation and the intersection of the two.

By Rebecca Fairchild ’18

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Young Chefs Program establishes itself in Wisconsin!

One of our main goals is to develop curriculum for educators to use in their classrooms across the nation. This week our goal materialized. Under the guidance of educator and activist Doug Merring, the Boys and Girls Clubs in Western Wisconsin are now bringing cooking and science to new communities and youth. They will teach our curriculum through their weekly afterschool programming, starting with Density this past week. According to Doug, the first lesson was “messy, fun and sometimes delicious,” and they are looking forward to keep exploring the world of edible discoveries.


Hummus or Humus: Learning about Nitrogen Fixation and Legumes (Northfield, MN)

There wasn’t exactly resounding enthusiasm when it was announced that the lesson of the week would be hummus. Though none of the students had previously tasted humus, they knew with conviction that it “was absolutely disgusting”. The general sentiment in the room was not improved upon learning that we would be using kidney beans. Upon learning this, a group burst into laughter while others theatrically exclaimed “eeeeewwwww kidneys that’s really gross”.

Before we began to make the allegedly vile substance, the volunteers did a quick lesson on nitrogen fixation and its relation to legumes. Much to the chefs’ surprise, nitrogen is the primary component of air, but, even so, plants have trouble obtaining the nitrogen that they need to grow. We explained that this is because the nitrogen that surrounds us is not typically in an organic form and needs to be altered to be useful for plants.

To make nitrogen usable, some plants are in a mutualistic relationship with rhizobia bacteria. These bacteria enter the roots of legumes which leads to nodules on the roots. In return for receiving this habitat from the plant, the bacteria synthesize nitrogen into an organic form that the plant can use. Nitrogen is a key component in protein. This means that legumes, which are able to fix nitrogen easily because of their relationship with bacteria, are high in protein. Bouncing off of this we briefly discussed how energy and nutrients from plants are transferred to other organisms, including humans.

With this understanding in place, we were ready to move into the cooking portion of the day.

The students divided into four groups, each of which made a different type of humus. One group made traditional hummus with garbanzo beans, others used kidney beans, black beans and white beans. To further diversify the hummuses, groups added ingredients such as cumin and jalapeños to taste. They were al very excited about the cooking process, and all wanted a chance to use the immersion blender as well as a chance to taste the tahini (an ingredient in all the humuses).

As the hummuses were being made, the students initiated conversations about how to alter proportions of ingredients in their hummus to make it taste better. Through this, they continued to develop the understanding that cooking is a creative and flexible process.

To taste their creations, the students cut up carrots, peppers and cucumbers and toasted pita chips. Despite the widespread conviction at the beginning of the lesson that humus was gross, every one of the students swarmed to the bowls of dip and was very eager to taste it. Approval was unanimous and the pack around the hummuses did not dissipate until the last carrot stick was polished off. There was no doubt that they adored the “disgusting” hummus.

Photos by Jillian Banner ’17

Written by Rebecca Fairchild ’18

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Face Changes? Exploring The Science of Ice Cream (Week 4 in Northfield, MN)

“Face changes?! I know what those are!” one student exclaimed as he rapidly transitioned between an impressive array of different facial expressions. This theatrical display halted as the volunteers broke the news that the lesson for the week was not in fact focused on how to cross one’s eyes while licking their nose, but, rather, was centered on the concept of phase changes. Though this concept was met with slightly fewer giggles, the excitement in the room did not diminish, especially when we revealed that we would be using ice cream to model these changes.

To begin our lesson, the volunteers did a brief intro on the concept of phase changes. It was clear that the students had been exposed to the idea before the lesson as they were able to rattle of and correctly apply terms such as solid, liquid, gas, evaporating, melting and freezing. Building upon these understandings, the volunteers drew molecular diagrams of the transitions to ground their knowledge atomically. Students were also asked to hypothesize about whether or not mass and the number of molecules is conserved through these changes. Most students understood that the number of molecules would not decrease, and, once we explained that these molecules were where the mass came from, they were able to grasp the concept of conservation of mass.

With a solid scientific foundation in place, we began the process of making ice cream. To do this, each student put a half cup of half and half, sugar and vanilla in a plastic bag. They then weighed the bag and recorded the initial mass of the liquid in a data table. Once this was complete, the students put their bag into a larger bag that was filled with salt and ice. As they mashed bags to freeze the ice cream, we continued discussion of the process of freezing. Additionally, we talked about the role of ice in making the system cold. They immediately related this concept to the “salt and ice challenge” which is apparently one of their favorite pastimes. The lesson went without hitch, except for the fact that the ice cream took a long time to freeze and was , in many cases, softer than ideal. When the ice cream finally solidified, the students re-massed their bag and were able to see the truth behind the conservation of mass.

To garnish the ice cream, the students made a chocolate sauce (which allowed them to explore the concept of melting) and whipped cream. We also brought fruit and nuts to top the sundays and, much to the volunteers amazement and excitement, the kids almost universally gravitated to the fruit.

Throughout the course of the lesson the kids expressions transitioned from excitement over ice cream, to awe and curiosity about conservation of mass to pure joy from eating their desserts. In this regard, the eager student at the beginning of the lesson was right; perhaps phase changes and face changes aren’t all that different after all.

Written by Rebecca Fairchild ’18

Pictures by Jilian Banner ’17

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Firebellies/Young Chefs Receives Large Alumni Donation to Establish Cookbook Library for Carleton Community

Bringing new culinary experiences and skills to members of our community is near and dear to Firebellies, the Carleton Culinary Club ( and the Young Chefs Program ( Through hands-on cooking classes and food workshops at Carleton and beyond, we seek to empower people of all ages with new skills and knowledge.
Today, we are happy to announce a fantastic and new opportunity for culinary learning.
Together with her husband Eric Randolph, Annie Katata, a Carleton alumna of ’78 and a passionate food activist and culinary enthusiast, has decided to donate over 150 cookbooks and culinary publications to the Firebellies and Young Chefs clubs at Carleton College. Thanks to their wonderful generosity, we are establishing a number of shelves as a designated cookbook library on the fourth floor of the Gould Memorial Library. These books will soon be available on open reserve for all members of the Carleton community for “use, research and exploration of culinary endeavors by future generations of the Carleton community.” More broadly, these resources will serve as continuos inspiration for Firebellies’ and Young Chefs’ efforts to engage the next generation with food and cooking. You can see the attached document for the full list of titles. 
Like our Young Chefs / Firebellies facebook pages to stay up to date on the construction of the Annie Katata ’78 and Eric Randolph Library for culinary learning.
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Tofu Deliciousness and Diffusion: Week 3 in Faribault, MN

One of the young chefs poked the tofu that was resting on the table for the stir-fry we were making that day. It giggled under his touch and then returned to form. In our small groups, the volunteers cut up a few little pieces off of the uncooked tofu and handed them out to be sampled. Almost none of the young chefs had ever heard of tofu much less tried it. As they were getting ready to eat the pieces we explained how tofu is made out of soybeans and is a staple in Asian cooking. The reactions varied from bad to worse. One of the students ate it with only a slight grimace while another ran to the closest trashcan and spat the tofu out in theatrical fashion.

Before we broke into small groups, everyone gathered around the main counter to watch the day’s demonstration. The volunteers set up a container filled with water and poured a couple tablespoons of soy sauce in. Then they added some clear Jello into the container and asked the students what they thought would happen. They were quick to hypothesize that the Jello would start to darken as the soy water infused into it. The demonstration was a great way to start teaching the young chefs about the process of diffusion, in which molecules will travel from an area of high concentration into one of low concentration in order to reach equilibrium. In this case it was the soy into the Jello, in the case of our stir-fry it would be the marinade diffusing into the tofu.

In the small groups, the young chefs chose a marinade to prepare. One group chose soy-ginger, another chose ginger-orange, and the last chose barbeque. After making the marinade they placed pieces of the tofu to soak. Then the chefs cut up some fresh vegetables (carrots, peppers, snap peas, onions), sautéed them until they were cooked and then added the tofu.

When the dish was ready, each chef got a bowl. Unlike their hesitation with the uncooked tofu, they were eager to try what they had prepared. The marinades delicious flavors had diffused into the tofu and the addition of the vegetables had livened up the stir-fry. One of the kids turned to me and said, “This is the best.”

Written by Sam Bearak, Carleton College ’18


Marinating Madness: Tofu and The Science of Diffusion (Week 3 in Northfield, MN)

The primary concept addressed at Young Chefs this week was diffusion. To address this, the chefs prepared marinated tofu that they stir-fried with vegetables. Before beginning the cooking, the volunteers discussed the concept of diffusion and modeled it by dropping gelatin squares into food coloring solutions. The students predicted what would happen when the gelatin was removed from the solutions at different time intervals. For the most part, they were able to predict that the food coloring would penetrate deeper into the gelatin as the amount of time in solution increased. Furthermore, they were able to apply this concept to the tofu soaked in marinade. Periodically throughout the lesson, volunteers removed chunks of gelatin from the solution and the students were able to observe how their predictions play out.
The culinary aspect of this lesson was equally successful as the initial science lesson. The students were split into three groups, each of which made a unique marinade. These marinades were orange ginger, barbeque and sweet and sticky. As the chefs cut up the tofu to soak in the marinade, conversation continued about how the diffusion applied to the tofu and how this made tofu a sponge of sorts for flavors. Also, we highlighted the nutritional benefits of tofu.

When the middle schoolers tasted the tofu alone, they were apprehensive about it, to say the least but we promised them that they would like it better once it was in stir fry. As the tofu marinated, they prepared vegetables to add to the stir-fry. As the beautifully colored dish was being cooked, they harkened back to the relation between food color and nutritional value that we discussed in an earlier lesson. Almost all of the students had not tasted tofu before, but they were all eager to taste the stir-fry. Opinions over the stir-fry varied from “I’m not going to take one more bite” to “This is delicious! I’m going to cook it for my family!” but, overall, their plates were clean and their feedback was positive!

Written by Rebecca Fairchild, Carleton College ’18

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Young Chefs to present at two state-wide conferences

Many exciting things are happening with Young Chefs right now. Perhaps most immediate are our upcoming presentations at two state-wide Minnesota conferences: the Minnesota National Science Teacher’s Association (MNSTA) annual conference, and the conference of the Minnesota Association for Alternative Programs (MAAP), an organization that involves over 145,000 students. Over the next week, our core curriculum development group composed of Carleton College students and faculty will collaborate in putting together an engaging, interactive one-hour presentation that aims to introduce educators to the ins and outs of our program, while also laying out how to use the Young Chefs model to empower students in a range of settings. We are excited to present at these two large conferences and to keep spreading our vision far beyond Minnesota. We can’t wait to see all the exciting opportunities that will come out of this. Wish us luck!

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Young Chefs initiates partnership with JustFood Co-op

Young Chefs is all about bringing cooking to the next generation to promote healthy eating; we want our young chefs to become aware of the health benefits of nutritiously delicious food, while also gaining experience with creativity and experimentation.

This idea is near and dear to the Just Food Co-op, the whole foods grocery store in Northfield, MN. Ever since the inception of Young Chefs three years ago, we have worked closely together with the Co-op in various events, mostly by hosting healthy cooking classes for youth at their community center. And when Bill Yosses, former White House pastry chef, came to visit a few weeks ago, the Co-op played a crucial role in marketing and support for our public events.

Today, we are proud to announce a new milestone in our partnership. From this week, JustFood Co-op will support Young Chefs by providing healthy and wholesome foods for our classes in Minnesota. This partnership will not only ensure that we can utilize the best possible ingredients available and truly teach the Young Chefs about the value of quality, but will also provide avenues for the Co-op to spread their vision to new populations. We are looking forward to where the synergy can take us!

Thank you, Co-op!



In search of the perfect cookie: Week 2 in Northfield, MN

Young chefs this week focused on the scientific method through experimentation with cookie recipes. To explore this, students were given a chocolate chip cookie which was made following the recipe exactly and asked to think about the impact of altering the ingredients or cooking processes.

At Northfield Middle School, the groups choose to investigate the impact of using melted butter, altering the cooking time, using baking soda instead of baking powder and increasing the amount of vanilla extract. While the cookies were baking the students came up with different criteria to use in evaluating the cookies.

These categories included hardness, size, color and sweetness. Generally, the students were very methodical about testing the cookies and filling out their chart. Melting the butter yielded a golden brown cookie that was chewy in the center with crispier edges. When the cookies were baked for 2 minutes shorter than the recipe called for, they were very doughy in the center and had a greasy appearance.

The baking soda made the cookies less flattened out, but also gave them a bitter flavor. The vanilla cookies were not significantly different from the control in terms of flavor, and were less chewy than the cookies made with melted butter. It was almost universally agreed that the cookies with melted butter were the best and the cookies that used baking soda were the worst. Overall, the lesson was very successful because the kids were very enthusiastic about the cooking, but were also voluntarily engaged in the scientific lesson that accompanied it.

Rebecca Fairchild, Carleton College ’18

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