Once a week in June, Madison Metropolitan School District students will be able to cook a full meal for their families under the direction of a Black chef, at no cost to their family.
The program, funded by the school district’s Black Excellence initiative, started in 2020 when longtime community leader and Seein’ is Believin’ founder Prenicia Clifton learned of a study from the Forum for Youth Investment that found six in 10 young people aren’t ready with basic life skills by the time they’re 21.
Cooking is one of those basic life skills, she said in an interview Thursday.
“I used to cook with my dad every single day,” she said. “And it was one of our greatest bonding times together. And I realized that cooking together, we increase math skills, we increased science skills and even communication skills in general.”
So when MMSD was looking for ideas to engage Black students in the Black Excellence Initiative, Clifton reached out to her friend Christy McKenzie, owner of Pasture and Plenty, a local restaurant and caterer that also offers at-home meal kits. The company worked with nonprofit organization Rooted to design a four-week series to get kids cooking.
Students who register receive a box with all the necessary ingredients to feed a family of four (or two boxes, if their family is larger) and then log into a Zoom call with a Black chef who’s designed the evening’s recipe. The student, with help from family, then prepares the meal along with the chef.
And it’s not all about cooking — the Zoom calls also include virtual farm visits, food-related science lessons from Jerrod Bucker of the UW Discover Center and a virtual visit from Color in the Outdoors founder Christopher Kilgour.
The next set of at-home cooking classes will run June 9, 16, 23 and 30. The registration deadline is Sunday, May 22. The chefs are:
- Nyanyika Banda, Chef and Author of Marvel’s Black Panther: The Official Wakanda Cookbook
- Ananda Afi Assignon, Chef and Co Owner La Casserole, LLC
- Tyler Krohn, Chef, Epic Systems, and Founder of the Frwrd Hospitality Group and scholarship fund at Madison College
- Awa Sibi, Chef and Owner Les Delices de Awa, LLC
All have at least some Madison ties, which is intentional, Pasture and Plenty Community Eats Events Manager Jenina Mella said.
“We are working hard to work with those businesses that don’t get a lot of love,” Mella said. “There’s so many Black food businesses in Madison, and people just don’t know about them. Since Pasture and Plenty is a business that really focused on on relationships around food, that’s a huge focus of this program — creating that network of relationships to be able to continue to support a program like this.”
The program has enough funding to take on about 75 students per session, though donations are being accepted to allow more families to participate. A donation of $250 will be enough to cover one family for all four sessions, Mella said. Additionally, families who register after all the slots are filled can still participate if they’re able to purchase the ingredients themselves.
Clifton said the benefits go beyond the ability to cook.
“When we got into the depth of the pandemic, we also found that there was mental health protective factors in there, and that it created a sense of altruism for the youth,” she said. “They were able to cook and provide meals for their families, while families were working two or three jobs, or when they had family members that were sick. And so some of the feedback that we were getting back was. ‘we didn’t know that our kids wanted to cook, we didn’t know that our kids didn’t know how to cook.'”
The program is also bringing in support from American Family Foundation, UW Credit Union, Summit Credit Union and UW Health Foundation, with an eye toward expanding it beyond the school district in the future.