Professional chef teaches students how to create the perfect taco

Mar 30, 2018

Kevin Gibbons took a break from his duties serving 9,000 meals a day to hungry college students to teach elementary schoolers how to cook the perfect taco.

The executive chef at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth was one of several guest chefs teaching a group of fifth graders from New Bedford’s Renaissance Community School the art of cooking.

It’s part of a collaborative effort between the university, its catering company Chartwells, New Bedford Public Schools, the Dartmouth Grange, and New Bedford-based Youth Opportunities Unlimited. The non-profit organization spearheads the “Food for Thought” program.

Food For Thought is a multi-week cooking program for New Bedford youth. Each week, small groups of students from area schools get hands-on cooking demonstrations from professionals at the Dartmouth Grange Hall. The program concludes with a visit to a local restaurant, and students get a cookbook with all the recipes they learned to take home.

It started nine years ago, but Gibbons joined the program three years ago at the request of Youth Opportunities Unlimited founder JoAnn Tschaen.

Tschaen read about Gibbons in a 2015 Dartmouth Week article about his creation of the Freight Farm, an on-campus hydroponic garden inside a shipping container.

“I thought, gee, wouldn’t it be nice to take the kids out to the university to see the Freight Farm,” Tschaen said.

The non-profit reached out to university officials, who arranged the tour. Gibbons quickly signed on to work with the kids too.

“I find the time to do this because it’s what I like to do— to teach,” Gibbons said.

The past two years included a crash course on pasta, but Gibbons decided to switch it up this year with tacos and nachos. It’s a simple, easy-to-make recipe that touches upon many concepts, including healthy foods, vegetables, and proper cutting, washing, and preparation techniques.

It's exactly the type of instruction Tschaen looked for: recipes which can be easily transferred to students’ lives, used in situations like when students are home alone, babysitting, or cooking for their whole family, and that use inexpensive and accessible ingredients.

“It’s getting kids to think about food and where it comes from,” said Chance Perks, Youth Opportunities Unlimited's Director of Operations. “It’s all about that broader perspective.”

And who doesn’t like tacos?

“They’ve got to like to eat it too,” Gibbons added.

After prepping the tacos, the group enjoyed a late lunch inside the Grange Hall’s large dining room. Fifth grader Nylah Merkman was feeling particularly daring, and tried guacamole for the first time.

“I didn’t really like it,” she said.