Chef Ed Kowalski has also weighed in with his thoughts on the experience of teaching the NHL prospects. I’ve posted it below. I will also post thoughts from Chef John DiGiovanni later today or early tomorrow. Thank you for the contributions.
From our initial meetings with Strength and Conditioning Coach Kevin Collins, our decision to offer cooking lessons to the Blue Jackets’ prospects was an exciting project. And, the response has been equally exciting and tremendous. From the immediate feedback of the prospects (average age of 19 – many of whom had never cooked a meal for themselves before) to the inquiries from arena staff about the possibility of having a class for them in the future, I think it really touched on both a need for education as well as a desire to pay attention to what is being put into our bodies. It is my belief that one of the most important roles chefs have is to be educators.
My part of the camp was limited to teaching and preparation of grains (brown rice, quinoa and couscous) due, in large part, to a fractured ankle that I recently suffered that hampered my mobility. I wanted to instruct these young athletes not only on how to cook the grains but also the nutritional properties of each (quinoa as a “complete protein” vs. brown rice as “incomplete,” etc.) and how to impart levels of flavor based on the addition of other ingredients, spices and herbs. They were also given instruction on how to dice onions and chop fresh herbs. The players were all very enthusiastic and attentive.
As I observed the players during class, it struck me that this was so much more than a cooking demo…it was, perhaps just as importantly, a team-building exercise. Players were showing the same teamwork in the kitchen that they are expected to exhibit on the ice, and some friendly competitions arose among them as well (who could dice onions the best, which group made a more flavorful quinoa dish, etc.). An added bonus was the presence of foreign (non-North American) players, because they could impart some insight into what flavors were popular in, say, Sweden or the CzechRepublic. So, I learned something as well.
Aside from seeing the looks on their faces as they ate their completed dishes, I think the most rewarding part of the camp for me was the reaction from the arena staff after reading the Columbus Dispatch article. While the players did not have a choice in attending the class, to hear arena employees ask if we could have a class for them proves to me that people really do want to improve their eating habits and learn to cook!