According to Derby Recreation Commission Health and Wellness Coordinator Debbie Williams, she has two main goals with the opening of The Kitchen at the new Hubbard Arts Center. That is to teach people to cook and to teach them how to cook healthy – though she promises programming won’t be weighted too heavily toward the latter goal.
“Not everything will be super healthy because we want to have a little fun. There’ll be some fun stuff, too – learning how to decorate cakes and cookies,” Williams said. “Our mission is to be a place providing nutrition education and cooking fun.”
Previously, the DRC has not had much outlet for cooking classes. Plain and simple, they haven’t had the facilities.
Even so, Williams and the DRC have been able to put on some cooking demonstrations intermittently – like for the Let’s DiaBeat This expo, which have been generally well-received. With the introduction of The Kitchen, though, the DRC’s capabilities in the culinary arts will be enhanced greatly.
“Those were demonstrations where people just kind of sat and watched,” Williams said of previous efforts. “This kitchen is not like that. This kitchen is where they’re going to be hands-on. They’re going to actually chop up the onions … they’re going to be hands-on making the food and learning about cooking.”
Stations are spread out throughout The Kitchen to provide individual prep areas for participants, with an extended range and griddle on which to cook. Additionally, there will be is an overhead display and two large 65-inch TVs so class members can follow along and mirror what the instructor is doing.
Learning opportunities in The Kitchen
Classes in The Kitchen officially began on June 15 (after COVID-19 delayed spring programming), with Williams noting the focus over the summer months is on offering courses for local youth. Classes are offered in four-day sessions, with morning sessions focusing on younger chefs (ages 7-11) and afternoon sessions geared toward the older kids (12-17) and tailored to their interests – teaching them how to cook cupcakes, ice cream, pizza and more.
Of course, there are programs geared toward adults as well (taking place in the evenings and on weekends) – ranging from date night classes on wine pairings to sushi making to advanced baking lessons on chocolate souffles.
Having six different instructors helps add to the variety of programs offered in The Kitchen, though Williams said some of them were interested in teaching cultural cooking, something that shaped a number of the initial classes.
In addition to cooking classes, eventually The Kitchen will be available to rent – though Williams noted the capabilities of the space will be limited in those situations.
“People will be able to come in and use The Kitchen, but it’ll probably be more of a catering kitchen,” Williams said. “We will not provide pots, pans and things for them to cook.”
The Kitchen programs are open not only to DRC members, but to non-members and others from the surrounding communities. Costs start at $25 for one-time kids courses and run up to $80 for multiple session adult classes. Registration (which can be done through derbyrec.com) is also required for all courses the Wednesday before the class starts.
Registration has been a little slow so far, but Williams chalked that up to the pandemic and people being hesitant to get involved in group activities. She expects that will change over time and eventually people will be drawn into the experience of The Kitchen.
Designed to be an “educational experience,” The Kitchen will also tie into other health and wellness classes – like a class on the Keto diet being offered at the Hubbard Arts Center – with the goal of equipping participants with better eating habits to promote a healthier community.
A 2015 community study found that people eat out a lot, Williams reported, with not much changing in a 2019 follow-up. Bringing people together to learn to cook, Williams is hoping The Kitchen can help address that.
“Some of it is, yeah, convenience, but some people just don’t know how to cook, and we really think you’re eating healthier when you’re cooking at home. You know what you’re putting in your food, you use healthier oils, so we just really thought it was a good thing for improving the health of our community,” Williams said. “Ultimately, our goal is providing a fun, culinary, interactive experience, but we also want to promote people’s skills and kind of have them be self-sufficient in being able to cook healthy and economical meals. We really just kind of want to teach the fundamentals of basic cooking.”