Metro Parks Tacoma announcement.
Chef Chris Kidner stood inside a trailer whimsically painted with cartoon vegetables as he balled up a lentil meatball, tossed it in the air and caught it in one hand.
“Whoa, how did you do that?” asked a little boy.
That interest in healthy cooking is exactly the point of the Mobile Teaching Kitchen, which kicked off its first tour last week with a demonstration outside Tacoma Housing Authority’s Bay Terrace complex.
The Metro Parks Tacoma program was designed to serve food deserts – urban areas with limited healthy and affordable food options – by bringing healthy food experiences directly to neighborhoods.
There are seven more cooking demonstrations planned for May. Dates and locations are listed here. Participants, who are asked to pre-register, each receive a goodie bag filled with heart healthy recipes, a Safeway gift card and an apron.
“The health and well-being of our community is hugely important but not everybody has access to nutritious food or knowledge of how to prepare dishes from scratch,” said Andrea Smith, president of the Board of Park Commissioners. “The Mobile Teaching Kitchen creates more accessibility by meeting people where they are.”
About 25 people attended the hourlong event May 3, where Kidner taught the group how to make lentil meatballs with marinara sauce. Each chef instructor picks the event’s menu item, which will range from whole wheat pancakes with strawberry compote to cultural dishes. Kidner said he chose lentil meatballs to promote plant-based meal options.
Vicky Taft and her 12-year-old son Callen sat in the front row, notebook out to jot down the chef’s tips and tricks. Cooking together is a common activity between mother and son and Callen said he was excited to learn something new.
“I’ve been teaching him how to cook and we were happy to see this class,” Taft said. “I told him he could take an actual class from someone who’s not his mom.”
Kidner stood in an open window of the 26-foot trailer and talked the participants through each step of the cooking process. He sprinkled in a heavy dose of nutrition education, explaining the importance of getting enough fiber and holding up leeks and spring onions to discuss how they’re grown.
The chef offered a full menu of lessons, including substitution advice for those with gluten or dairy sensitivities and tips on what to buy at the grocery store. All of that mixed in while Kidner sauteed onions, whipped up flax meal as an egg replacement and whirred all the ingredients in a food processor.
By the time the marinara sauce was heating, delicious aromas were wafting through the audience. A few participants stuck around after the demonstration to taste the meatballs. Kidner also allowed participants in the trailer for a quick tour and gander at the cooking setup.
The Mobile Teaching Kitchen was custom built and donated by Regence Blueshield. It was dedicated in March 2020 – just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic brought plans for the first season’s road tour to a grinding stop. The Mobile Teaching Kitchen was a popular summer camp feature in 2022 and thanks to a partnership with the American Heart Association and Safeway, 2023 will offer a robust year of healthful cooking classes for all ages.
“The American Heart Association is proud to be a part of the Mobile Teaching Kitchen as it complements the nutrition security projects we’ve been doing in Pierce County, such as collaborating with food banks, housing and clinics to ensure people have access to healthy, culturally relevant food,” said Whitney Meidl, executive director of development and community health for American Heart Association’s Puget Sound chapter. “A healthy diet is an important piece of a heart disease and stroke prevention plan and projects like these are critical in reducing barriers to overall health and well-being in our community.”
Later this month, the kitchen will roll up to Blueberry Park where the participants will learn “farm to table” recipe ideas. That class will share how people can create delicious meals from the produce grown in the community garden, which was added as part of the park bond’s improvements in 2018 thanks to a $100,000 grant provided by Trust for Public Land.
“There’s a secret ingredient that enables our staff to excite and serve our community in unexpected ways. It’s called partnership,” President Smith remarked. “None of this would be possible without Regence Blueshield, who shared our staff’s vision and funded the creation of the kitchen. We are incredibly grateful to them and our event sponsors who are making it possible for our team to offer healthy cooking classes throughout our community.”