The Free Library Adds Culinary Literacy Center for Chefs Young and Old

Layla El Tannir, for GPA -- The Free Library of Philadelphia launched its new Culinary Literacy Center and state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen at their Parkway Central location on June 2. The new center will provide culinary literacy classes for children and adults that use cooking to teach lessons in reading, math, chemistry, nutrition and more.

These skills will develop collectively as students learn to read through recipes, learn math through measuring and learn chemistry by seeing what happens as ingredients are mixed together and the food transforms from a raw to cooked form. This is an innovative program that aims to develop literacy and problem-solving skills. Additionally, the opening of the center will allow the Free Library to host workshops on nutrition, courses on budgeting and healthy cooking, as well as public classes and demonstrations.

“We are attacking literacy issues in a fun and novel way,” said Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia. “Every bite of food we eat has a story, and the Free Library is committed to telling those stories and helping Philadelphians tell their own stories, through high-quality culinary literacy instruction for children and adults of all ages and skill levels.”

To provide this culinary literacy programming, the Free Library is building partnerships with organizations that already offer culinary education services in and around the city. Their partner organizations include The Garces Foundation; The Vetri Foundation; The Careers through Culinary Arts Program; Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management; the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability; Penn State Extension’s Nutrition Links; The Supportive Older Women’s Network; the Center for Literacy and more.

Partners of the center recently ran demonstrations on how to make different salads and healthy snacks such as trail mix, offering a glimpse of the hands-on approach to expect from the program.

For his part, chef and restaurateur Marc Vetri is excited to be involved in the program, calling it a matter of “building a relationship between healthy eating and healthy living.”

Jose Garces, who was inspired by chef Vetri’s work within the community, echoed Vetri’s thoughts as he said it was incredible to be able to “help and give back in an avenue we are passionate about.”

“This place makes a lot of sense… it’s a big step forward,” he said.

With the support of Philadelphia’s leading culinary experts, the Culinary Literacy Center will be able to develop a quality program incorporating the basics and eventually advance to higher-level education and skills with some of the most highly respected chefs and experts in town.

The Garces Foundation is committed to ensuring that Philadelphia’s immigrant community has access to medical, educational and nutritional services. Chef Adam Delosso, of the Garces Group, led a knife demo to students of the foundation with assistance from Vetri and a handful of others working for the Garces Group. Many of the students already work in restaurants around the city but are limited by their English language skills and lack of formal culinary training. Demonstrations like these will help educate them, build their confidence and enable them to grow within their chosen field.

Education and the culinary arts are two highly appreciated and relevant global avenues that make for an incredibly innovative and boundless combination. The culinary world is an art form that can be mastered by people all over the world, but not everyone has the opportunity to receive a quality education. Developments such as the Culinary Literacy Center give people the chance to learn skills, make a living, have some fun along the way and spread their passion for food and education to a future generation.

“It’s not a little issue, it’s a large issue,” said Vetri, regarding the lack of culinary education opportunities. “Learning about food would solve a lot of the issues around the world.”

The demonstration kitchen is located on the fourth floor of the Free Library of Philadelphia's main branch. For more information, please visit the Free Library's website.

Photo courtesy of Layla El Tannir.