The Future of Cooking

students getting ready to cook

students getting ready to cook
Lake Ridge New Tech Middle School students getting ready to cook.

“Cooking with kids is not just about ingredients, recipes and cooking. It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment and creativity.” - Renowned American Chef, Thomas Keller.

Chartwells Food Services is planting the joys of cooking into the minds of elementary and middle school students in the Lake Ridge New Tech school system. 

Chartwells is the district’s food service provider. Food Service Director Fred Vaughn said the company came up with the idea of introducing students to the culinary arts with a curriculum rooted in hands-on participation and fun. 

Each month, a group of students head to the cafeterias at Longfellow New Tech Elementary and Lake Ridge New Tech Middle School and don their junior chef jackets to prepare a dish under the watchful tutelage of Vaughn and the Chartwells head chef, who goes by the name “Chef J.” 

“I’ve been in food service for over 37 years and at Chartwells, we believe food should be a part of the program,” Vaughn says. “This is also educational; kids get to learn how to make things. Who knows? If they like it, it could turn into a career. At the very least, they will be able to cook at home.”

Judging by their enthusiasm, students are enjoying themselves. They look forward to their day in the kitchen. Fifth grader Charlotte Gamez said that cooking is her way of expressing herself. 

“I love to cook,” she says. “Like, these popcorn balls we’re making, I can put sprinkles on them and chocolate; I can decorate them however I want. This makes me happy–very happy.”

Fellow fifth grader David Stuart said cooking runs in his family. 

“My mom likes to cook, my dad likes to cook, and I like to cook,” he says. “I like making stuff–it’s fun and I like eating what I cook.”

Middle School Principal Rachel Neimann welcomes the idea of Chartwells teaching her students the fine art of cooking. 

“It gives them the opportunity to do something they might not do at home,” she says. “It gives them insight into something they might want to do as a career. It opens their minds up to something they don’t do every day, and they really like it.”

make popcorn balls
Chef J teaches students how to make popcorn balls.

sprinkle popcorn ball
David Stuart creates a chocolate sprinkle popcorn ball.