Cultural Cooking for Fun and Health

By Rochelle Moyd, Research and Promotion Associate at The Sylvia Center

High atop the Bloomberg building in midtown Manhattan, 40 high-school students from the South Asian Youth Action (SAYA) Organization gathered together to take part in a multi-cultural cooking workshop with the Sylvia Center. Most of the students have roots in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Guyana, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and take part in SAYA center’s school-based programs. Among the services provided by SAYA are academic and career preparation, recreational and artistic opportunities, individual and group counseling, and lastly, leadership and organizing activities. Through its programs and advocacy efforts, SAYA works to create broad social and systemic change that positively impact immigrant youth.

The Sylvia Center’s Chef Instructors Daniel Meyer, Ruth Fehr, Hollie Greene, and Franca D’Amico, supervised by Education Director Nina Simmons, transformed two large office rooms into a bustling kitchen. As the students entered the room, they were greeted by the colorful décor and tasteful graffiti on the many glass walls; some students even bobbed their heads to the hip music that blasted from the speakers. The students were divided up into groups of 10 to start preparing the four recipes on the menu. Each group was asked to enter one of two rooms, which were named after two Boroughs in NYC; Bronx and Brooklyn. In “the Bronx” the menu consisted of Vietnamese Summer Rolls taught by Chef Daniel: fresh vegetables, mint leaves, noodles, and fresh red-leaf lettuce rolled up in softened rice paper with a spicy soy-butter sauce. Chef Franca led stuffed cherry tomatoes with freshly made guacamole. Over in the next room, “Brooklyn,” Chef Ruth led a short course in Vegetable Maki (sushi rolls) prepared with fresh carrots, cucumbers, avocado and sticky rice. Chef Hollie talked about the spices used in Middle Eastern cuisine and then made hummus: pureed chickpeas, lemon zest, chopped garlic, and cumin powder. The students then spread the hummus on whole wheat wraps with roasted red peppers, sautéed onions, feta cheese and cucumbers and rolled them up.
As the night came to a close everyone was eager to taste the food prepared by the SAYA students. They proudly presented the food, and by the look on everybody’s faces the food was beautiful and delicious.

The SAYA students came in naïve to the art cooking, but left with knowledge of how to prepare some wonderful, healthy dishes. Most importantly, they all went home happy in the knowledge that everything they had indulged was fresh and healthy.