Four days a week, 17 middle school scholars and their instructors gather around a workstation in the kitchen at Habans. Some days they cook through the hour, others they take seats around a table and learn from their teachers or watch video demonstrations. In 2017, the Culinary Club was first offered as the result of a year-long partnership with Oschner Medical Center. Oschner underwrote the program and temporarily provided the equipment and food. When the program was complete, it was not certain if there would be enough resources to continue the popular club. “At Habans, we are intensely focused on academics, but we are also committed to providing opportunities for students to develop lifelong passions like culinary arts. They can take this passion with them as they leave us and pursue higher education and career pathways,” said Elisabeth LaMotte-Mitchell, Habans Principal. “Securing funding to continue the Culinary Arts program was a big priority.”
The Culinary Club is now a regular elective and the Lagasse Foundation grant has allowed Habans to purchase cooking equipment such as portable burners, blenders, pots and pans, and knives. Funds have also been applied to food and the young chefs have learned, among many things, to make pizza dough from scratch, flip a perfect omelette, and hand-wrap potstickers. There is also a large emphasis placed on nutrition and making healthy food choices as well as learning about the significant contributions that the African American community has made to New Orleans cuisine. Riyah, a 6th grader in the club expressed, “The reason I love culinary arts is I love cooking, and it makes me try new things in life.” Habans also has added a garden where the members of the club are growing some of the foods they cook. Grant funds will purchase gardening supplies to support this new initiative.
“We are honored to support Crescent City Schools through the Culinary Arts Program at Paul Habans Charter School. When students are connected to their food and learn where it comes from, they make healthier eating choices. They can then share this knowledge with their families and communities leading to increased engagement at home and a healthier community. We would like to see the program continue to grow so that more students have the opportunity to develop important life skills through cooking and nutrition education,” shared Brian Kish, president of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation.