REAL Lebanese Cooking at The REAL School

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It all started back in April when my sister and I took my mom to NYC for her birthday.  We were going to be audience members on the set of The Chew.  To make a long story short, I ended up being a participating audience member and had my 5 minutes of fame next to Clinton Kelly.  The experience was so amazing and enlightening.  It made me realize that I really want to follow my passion for food and do something with it.  What was that “something”? I didn’t know immediately but I kept getting more “signs” that this was the time to do it.  After doing some soul searching, I created Beingbetter2gether.com.  It was the start of something… I just didn’t know where or what it will lead to.

 

Months after my site launched, a close neighbor of mine came over and asked if I would like to be a guest chef at the school she worked at, The REAL School.   ”The REAL School is an adventure-based, alternative and special education school serving students with and without disabilities, whose needs have not been met in traditional school programs, and whose strengths have yet to be reflected in their school performance.” I was nervous at first but realized this is exactly what I wanted.  I wanted to share my knowledge and this was a perfect way to do it.  I met with the Department  Head of the cooking program, Christine, and planned out the menu. Christine mentioned that it would be great to have 3 or 4 kids from the “REAL School” in the kitchen.

The day arrived and I was a bit anxious not only to cook and showcase Lebanese food for 100 staff members and students but also to work with a group of kids that might care about what I was sharing with them.

The menu was ambitious but I felt it was the perfect sampling of Middle Eastern food. 

Menu:

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Hummus

Mediterranean Meatloaf Muffins and Taziki

Fattoush, Lebanese salad

Rice Pilaf

Falafel – made by Christine

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I started the day by working with Nick, who was the student kitchen manager.  I relied a lot on him to help me get the things I needed around the industrial kitchen.   He wasn’t, as most of the students were not, the most adventurous eater but it seemed he really enjoyed learning in the kitchen.  At the same time, I realized I really enjoyed teaching them and introducing them to new smells and tastes. 

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As the morning started to pass, I had more helpers coming into the kitchen.  By the time lunch was served, I believe I had the whole class of 8-10 kids in the kitchen.  It was a full culinary class. I made sure they smelled the mint and parsley to identify their individual scents. They finely chopped the cukes, mixed it into the yogurt and finally tried the taziki. I taught them how to make their own dressing by slowly whisking oil into a lemon and seasoning. They were responsible for toasting the pita bread for the Fattoush and making the muffins. All in all, they really took charge and did a great job.

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Even though some didn’t like what they tried, or they loved a new food like the Hummus, they all learned something new.   I was able to teach them about anew cuisine and new cooking skills.  It was an amazing feeling and so rewarding. 

After we all ate and it was over, one of the assistant teachers came over and told me how wonderful I was with the kids.  She also mentioned that it’s very rare that they are all in the kitchen at the same time working together.  And that is what got me… I got into my car after and cried because it wasn’t my own kids I was bringing 2gether, it was my community’s children and I might have made a small difference in their day or life and I can’t wait to do it again!