Young chefs transform fresh ingredients into classic treats

Jan Loveland, Contributing Writer

Photo by Jan Loveland

Local chef Scott Udell helps Donovan Duran separate tomatoes that will be frozen for later use. Udell helped the class to produce 28 quarts of salsa, some of which was donated to the Bellaire Food Pantry.


BELLAIRE – It’s not surprising that so many kids are enrolled in the Bellaire Youth Initiative (BYI) cooking class. Now in its third year, the class is a great opportunity, with kids from fourth- through ninth grades being trained by two seasoned teachers, “Grandma” Dee Lynch and Scott Udell, a local chef known for his barbeque.

The 16 kids attending the class spend five weeks learning to make salsa, spaghetti sauce, applesauce, and zucchini bread.

According to current BYI board chair Bryan Hardy, all of the group’s class offerings are intended to provide step-by-step instruction to connect kids with the real world skills that used to be taught as part of a school’s regular curriculum. Since home economics classes are no longer offered in most public schools, the young chefs are savoring the opportunity of learning to navigate a kitchen.

“We enlighten them about how life used to be,” Hardy said. “Doing things step-by-step from start to finish helps them understand how life used to be.”

He added that all the offerings are meant to provide the kinds of practical education that the local school board cannot afford to offer. Other BYI classes have included biking, guitar, sewing, performing arts and robotics. Currently, more than 150 students are participating in the afterschool programs.

And, without question, the students are actively engaged in the learning process.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, students were intently focuses on the task at hand, making salsa. On each of four stovetops, large pots of salsa were bubbling away as students took turns stirring and adding vegetables to each one. Lynch and Udell circulated among them, suggesting adjustments to the burner temperature and answering questions.

Most of the ingredients came from the garden that was cultivated, maintained and harvested by Bellaire students last summer, a joint project of BYI, Rotary and the Juniper Garden Club.

As the students worked, things seemed to be simmering along without boiling over. There was a lack of drama and raised voices that suggested how involved the kids actually were. And 28 quarts of salsa later, the class was able to donate some quart jars to the Bellaire Food Pantry.

As the vegetable chopping came to an end and the steaming pots were nearly ready, Lynch and Udell reminded the kids to pitch in and clean up after themselves, and that their work areas would be inspected for cleanliness.

According to Lynch, all of the BYI classes have been very popular and current students have often participated in other activities that the organization has sponsored.

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