Teaching Kitchen Set to Expand Outreach in 2018
Turner Farm opened its state-of-the-art Teaching Kitchen in the autumn of 2016. Housed in the exquisitely renovated Studio Barn, the Teaching Kitchen’s mission was to extend Turner Farm’s core philosophy of stewardship of the land to include stewardship of our individual bodies through diet and mindfulness-based practices.
In the first full year of operation, the kitchen hosted private dinners, retreats for medical students, and classes aimed at increasing the knowledge and culinary skillset of students. Subjects included everything from healthier takes on holiday desserts to cancer-preventative cooking.
In June, Turner Farm hired Chef Stephanie Michalak to serve as the first Culinary Manager. Alongside the farm’s Director of Events, Mary Joseph, Chef Michalak has expanded the course offerings and introduced an ambitious set of classes aimed at getting participants enthusiastic about exploring their talents in their own kitchens.
Turner Farm recently sat down with Chef Michalak for a recap on the Teaching Kitchen’s first year and a preview of what is to come.
Turner Farm: What have you learned about the local community from your position in the Teaching Kitchen?
Chef Michalak: Well, that’s a very difficult question for me to fully answer because I’m an east-coaster and I’m still trying to figure out what is more a regional versus local thing. Plus, I’m not fully sure if after only six months I really provide a comprehensive perspective, or if I’m still an outsider in some respects. For example, this past week I learned what a “White Elephant” gift was. I have legitimately never heard that used in the context of gifts before. However, what I have learned about the local community, especially at Turner Farm, is that people are very willing to help and are curious to learn more.
Most of what I’ve taken from my short time here so far has been focused on figuring out what people want to learn and what the local community would like from the Teaching Kitchen in the future. Some of my upcoming classes like “Knife Skills” and “Stocks & Soups” are specifically created due to others asking for them. I am also building curriculum for classes in the future that will be geared towards either kids and teens, or families. So, if anyone has a great idea for a class or public event you would like to see from us, I will happily listen.
How has the Teaching Kitchen evolved over the past year?
The Teaching Kitchen has changed a lot over the past year simply due to the presence of a full-time chef. Since starting at Turner Farm this past June, we’ve hosted many more public classes and have catered a series of corporate meetings, faculty retreats, garden clubs, graduation parties, private culinary classes, and private dinners in the Barn Studio space. Our space is extremely versatile and has a picturesque backdrop, so I have seen the studio transform to fit these various classes and events. I think over the past six months especially, Mary Joseph and I have truly only started wrapping our heads around how adaptable and multi-faceted the Teaching Kitchen can be.
So we can expect this evolution to continue next year?
Oh yes. Absolutely! I’m looking forward to 2018 because of this adaptability. I always look forward to teaching private classes, catering many events from corporate meetings to intimate rehearsal dinners, and getting others engaged in the larger conversation around food and health. I am excited to highlight many, brand-new culinary courses and programs that will hopefully happen both on and off the farm, as well as collaborating more with UC’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness. Additionally, I am aiming to unveil some dining opportunities at Turner Farm as the New Year progresses. It will be very interesting to see where we are in a year because we are still just ramping up.
Talk to us about the core philosophy of the kitchen and how it fits in with Turner Farm’s broader mission?
The kitchen positions itself neatly within Turner Farm’s broader mission of fostering stewardship of the land, ourselves, and the development of a nurturing community. I think it is easiest for most currently to see the Teaching Kitchen’s connection with the process of taking ownership over your own health. This is especially apparent with our UC Farm Wellness Series because we highlight how food is medicine. We do this by hosting classes open to the public that cover various health concerns like weight management, stress management, and cancer that are heavily researched and explained by medical professionals alongside hands-on kitchen experience to gain more clarity and confidence to empower participants.
However, I think all aspects of developing stewardship connects to the Teaching Kitchen, but may not be so transparent. For example, if we look at our mission to promote stewardship of the land, I think most people consider that Turner Farm’s work on the land through organic agriculture and sustainable livestock management is the primary bulk of protecting the land and while, yes, this is an extremely important part of it; it isn’t the whole story. Our current national food system and every step along the food distribution and consumption chains do a lot of damage to our Earth.
And how does the Teaching Kitchen help our community members fight back against the current food paradigm?
How we tackle this aspect in the Teaching Kitchen is to educate ourselves and our guests on how to get the most utility out of your ingredients and minimize food waste. We tend to also talk about how soil health translates into the vivaciousness of (or lack thereof) produce/livestock; which in turn, feeds you and nourishes your own being. We’re all a part of this world and understanding the intricacies of our connections allows us to be a little more aware and, hopefully, a little more conscientious.
Probably one of my favorite things to talk about is how food plays into the many cultures that make up this world. We as humans find some connection and tradition tied to food. There are so many manifestations of food holding significance that permeate our identities. Food links us all in ways we sometimes do not even want to admit. However, because food is such a strong connector to others, those who do work with food have an amazing conductor to help others understand their own food environment better. How Turner Farm’s Teaching Kitchen is aiding in this part of the conversation on a community-wide scale is still in its infancy stages.
Do you have plans to bring some of your curriculum off the farm and into local communities?
Yes, absolutely. I’m really looking forward to getting off the farm and into local communities. However, it takes a lot of time to create something that with both be impactful, and sustainable.
Our Community Garden Program does an amazing job in providing others in the greater-Cincinnati area the opportunity to connect themselves to their local community through urban gardening and growing spaces. This coming March I will have the opportunity to teach one of the classes in our Learn-Grow-Earn program on health and wellness, as well as harvesting, cooking, and how to store your harvest. I’m extremely excited about this chance because even though I love Turner Farm and the Teaching Kitchen’s physical space, it isn’t feasible for everyone to be able to trek out here all the time.
Since its founding, Turner Farm has been more than just the physical space it occupies. We’ve always worked to provide community members with the education and other means of support to be stewards of whatever land they occupy or can influence. It seems as if the Teaching Kitchen is continuing that tradition.
Exactly. Having others in our community committed to taking ownership over growing produce in any space, urban, rural, or anywhere in between is phenomenally powerful. However, if someone does not know how to use what they grew, or how to get the most nutrition from it, they are missing out on reaping all the benefits.
I’m currently in the process of developing a culinary outreach program that will more than likely try to work with our Community Garden Program. I’m hoping to take some of my classes like “Stocking a Healthy Pantry” and “Knife Skills” on the road alongside the message that food is medicine and the work I have been developing for the Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference this coming February. I am inherently an impatient person and I’d love to already be out in the local communities, but I also want to be diligent and make sure the Teaching Kitchen does our homework, so to speak.
Can you tell me about your planned presentation at Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives?
Sure. For those that do not know what the Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference is about, it is a yearly meet-up for health professionals to learn more about current research on nutrition, lifestyle, and diets that affect overall health and well-being. I was asked to present a workshop entitled “Advising Patients & Families on a SNAP Budget.”
The whole workshop will cover a summary of SNAP and what it does allocate to low-income individuals and families to purchase food (most SNAP participants get about $4.00 a day from the program to allot towards food and few are able to supplement that), highlighting other complications beyond financial needs that are barriers for these individuals to obtain nourishing foods, and how medical professionals can help their patients that are either a part of SNAP or on a very restricted diet. This ultimately intends to address the misconception that healthy, time sensitive cooking is too expensive or out of reach for those in lower-socioeconomic situations.
Much of my time preparing for this conference has been highlighting the need to restructure recipes and culinary skills to empower individuals, of any socioeconomic level, to interchange ingredients based on budget, seasonality, and dietary needs. The most logical approach that I have found has been developing a visual reconfiguration of how recipes are expressed through infographic designs. I will be presenting a few designs at the conference that examine ingredients based on their multi-functionality and abilities and a couple take-homes including a how-to for practitioners to build their own recipe infographics based on their patients’ needs.
This presentation is a great opportunity to potentially help healthcare providers better coach their patients and encourage them to take initiative in their own health and well-being through food even when times are tough.
For more information on the Turner Farm Teaching Kitchen, including Chef Stephanie’s January class lineup, click here.