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  • 08
    Jun 2015
    Cooking Crew Recipe

    ‘Had a dispute with Father about the use of my making this sugar when I knew it could be done and might have bough sugar cheapter at Holden’s. He said it took me from my studies. I said I made it my study; I felt as if I had been to a university.’ – Thoreau In [...]

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    May 2015

  • 03
    May 2015
    Cooking Crew Asset Alignment

    What are the resources needed to run cooking crew? People (coordination and mentorship) Materials (supplies and food) Space (storage and implementation) The cooking crew model can support the engagement and feeding of many, many people. The limiting factors are the size of the need and the ability to align assets to procure the resources to [...]


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Cooking Crew Recipe

‘Had a dispute with Father about the use of my making this sugar when I knew it could be done and might have bough sugar cheapter at Holden’s. He said it took me from my studies. I said I made it my study; I felt as if I had been to a university.’ – Thoreau

In cooking crew students are engaged in creating school food. Young people work in teams competing to prepare and serve the best fresh delicious foods to their peers. This takes place in the school, either during the school day or an afterschool program, and can be housed in a classroom, cafeteria, kitchen, or outdoor picnic tables. Cooking a dish (or dishes) from scratch is the primary activity of the cooking crew, and connected to it are secondary activities like calculating the nutrition information of the dish, researching the cuisine and creating an educational presentation associated with the dish, practicing journalism by writing on the topics of food and health, creating posters/centerpieces/illustrations


Every child in the School District of Philadelphia receives free breakfast and lunch, much of it pre-plated- a service contracted out to the Maramont Corporation.

The food arrives at the school via truck, frozen and prepackaged in an individual serving.


The canned chicken, crackers, raisins, and juice combination was served for breakfast at summer camp.

photo 1

photo 2

This poster hangs above the cafeteria service window at Sayre High School.


Due mainly to budget and infrastructure realities in Philly Schools, it is difficult to see the Philly school food service situation drastically improving in the short term. Few would argue that in its current state, there are far too few fresh, seasonal, and palatable food options for breakfast and lunch and that there is far too much uneaten and wasted food across meals as a whole. Anecdotally, more than half the food served is thrown directly into the trash can- with a disturbingly high percentage of vegetable dishes. Kids call the meals ‘space food’ and ‘prison food’, and the truly hungry who do eat the food are ridiculed and teased by their classmates for being ‘poor’. Food waste in schools isn’t an immediate priority because it has little financial impact- the school district is reimbursed by the federal government for every meal served, not every meal consumed.

Put plainly, the food served and the setting it’s served in represents the worst our food system and our education system have to offer. It reflects the value our society places on poor children, and it is a poor reflection indeed.

For this reason, the Cooking Crew project was developed with the purpose of creating a radical transformation to the food landscape in Philly schools.

The strategy is to work with a cohort of students in a long-term game (a summer, semester, year, or beyond) where teams compete to usher in this transformation. Students are engaged in the task of cooking, but also a multiplicity of academic and enrichment tasks that are also focused on creating a healthier school food system. Each week the student teams take two hours to prepare their dish, document the preparation (with photo, video),


present the dish to their peers, serve the dish, and clean up after themselves. Each of these activities is worth a certain number of points, awarded to the team. Outside of the two hours, students work in art class decorating aprons and designing centerpieces for serving tables, in math on calculating a nutrition label for the dish, in science by growing vegetables and herbs to be used in recipes, and in social studies to create recipes and menus based on seasonal flavors and different cuisines.



Cooking Crew is a supply-heavy activity, as the multiple teams competing all should have their own similar set of supplies to use. Each team needs cutting boards, knifes, butane stoves, peelers pots, measuring cups, pans, wooden spoons, blenders, mortar and pestles, etc. You don’t need to get everything new. We’ve contacted friends, colleagues, friends of colleagues, etc with a donation list- it’s amazing how many people are willing to support food education for kids. Just make sure the equipment is to a standard that you would be willing to eat off of. All cooking supplies need to be kept in rodent proof plastic tubs.

There can also be a plastic tub(s) filled with communal supplies- like a wok, popcorn popper, food mill, zester,

The way we mark the cooking supplies (and everything else like tubs, aprons, daily plans) is with different color duct tape, which you can get at a home improvement store or amazon. Just put a piece on everything, and use it to hang up the daily plans on the wall.


For cleaning, each cooking crew team sets up their own 3-bin system (wash, rinse, sanitize) using restaurant-style dish bins (these are also labeled with duct tape). This way the sink only needs to be used to wash hands, rinse produce, drain water, and wash stock pots, blender tops, and other large items. Soap, bleach, and sponges are also needed for each team. To keep the sponges for the 3-bins dry, use a paint brush holder which you can get at any store that sells paint.


Other key supplies for the cooking portion of the project are aprons for every participant, sharpies to decorate the aprons, and pins to attach to the aprons to signify earning points and certificates.


Group Size (young people)

Cooking Crew needs at least 2 teams, and a minimum of 4 students should be assigned to each team. A cooking crew team can work well with up to 10 students, although there needs to be either one very experienced or two semi-experienced adults working with a team of 10. Up to 5 teams can compete at a time, but the space will need to be very large (such as a cafeteria or gym with tables.

Group Size (older folks)

In Cooking Crew young people are empowered to drive each aspect of the food preparation, from creating recipes to delegating roles to chopping, frying, serving, and washing. To facilitate this process, a good deal of supervision from supportive and experience adults is essential. To this end, Cooking Crew provides a meaningful opportunity for adult volunteers (parents, college students, chefs, writers, artists, community partners) to support the overall activity. Students bond and build meaningful relationships with their adult mentors, so it’s vital that adults are able to commit consistently to their work with Cooking Crew, and are honest with the students and coordinators if this isn’t possible.

Each Cooking Crew team needs at least one adult assigned to it in the role of Kitchen Assistant. The responsibilities of the Kitchen Assistant involve supporting the overall cooking process, with specific emphasis on tasks that include peeling, cutting, and fire.


Overall, there should be one adult assigned to the role of Head Chef. This is the perfect job for a high-school student in a culinary program, a culinary school student, or professional chef or experienced home cook. It’s great if the Head Chef has a chef jacket to wear during Cooking Crew as this emphasized their expertise in the culinary area. The responsibility of the Head Chef is to float around the kitchen, moving from team to team to observe cooking techniques, offer support/direction wear needed, and hold students accountable to best cooking practices that were reviewed during the initial Cooking Crew training.

There are more components to serving a great dish than just the taste of the food. In Cooking Crew students are engaged in




The Cooking Crew Watermelon Cup and Pineapple Prize







Cooking Crew Asset Alignment

What are the resources needed to run cooking crew?

  • People (coordination and mentorship)
  • Materials (supplies and food)
  • Space (storage and implementation)

The cooking crew model can support the engagement and feeding of many, many people. The limiting factors are the size of the need and the ability to align assets to procure the resources to match the need.


“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effecively have preveailed.”

Charles Darwin

The success of Cooking Crew is built upon authentic, mutually beneficial partnerships between children and adults. All of the below oversight roles could be occupied by a teacher, site director/principal or other admin staff, parent, responsible student (or team of students), or highly committed intern or volunteer. In particular, Cooking Crew provides a meaningful opportunity for parents and community members (especially professional or amateur cooks/chefs, artists, journalists, photographers or athletes). College, graduate, and mature high-school students are also ideal Cooking Crew mentors.

  • Cooking Crew Coordinator (essential): The Coordinator is responsible for the staffing/training of Cooking Crew adult mentors, the oversight of space set-up and supply/ingredient procurement, storage, and waste management. The Coordinator organizes Cooking Crew teams, reviews recipes and oversees point system.
  • Chef Mentor (essential): Each Cooking Crew team has at least 1 Chef Mentor (CM). The CM is responsible for overseeing his/her team’s implementation of the cooking crew model with fidelity and quality. The CM does not lead, but actively guides, supports, and motivates students to take ownership and leadership of the various tasks involved in cooking crew. The CM pays particularly close attention to all tasks involving knives and fire. At the end of coking crew, the CM assigns a point score for each student’s participation, which translates into Mastery Pins.
  • Chef Support (optional- priority 1): The Chef Support (CS) is passionate about food, an experienced home or professional cook, and possesses advanced culinary wisdom and skill. The CS floats around the kitchen to provide guidance to as teams prepare their recipes and is ultimately responsible for ensuring that all dishes are prepared with a high degree of technical skill, are presented beautifully, and taste amazing.
  • Artist Mentor (optional- priority 2): The Arist Mentor (AM) works with students to integrate art into the cooking crew experience. Art projects include (but are not limited to) creating menu signs, sculptural centerpieces, culinary illustrations, and apron/hat decorations. The AM and Journalist Mentor work together to facilitate recipe creation and service training.
  • Fitness Mentor (optional- priority 3): The Fitness Mentor (FM) oversees the fitness zone where students earn points for the demonstration of sustained physical activity. The FM role models and teaches students proper exercise techniques.
  • Journalist Mentor (optional- priority 3): The Journalist Mentor (JM) works with students to write reviews/poetry/reflections, conduct interviews, and create blogs inspired by cooking crew and food in general. The JM and AM work together to facilitate recipe creation and service training.
  • Media Mentor (optional- priority 4): The Media Mentor (MM) works to mentor students in the documentation of Cooking Crew activities through photo and video. The MM coordinates with the AM and JM to create the Cookbook Scoreboard.


“A sustainable world means working together to create prosperity for all.” Jacqueline Novogratz

Student recipe creators follow a framework in Cooking Crew to design recipes that begins with selecting ingredients that are seasonal. The goal of cooking crew is to use the best available ingredients possible, especially locally grown, freshly harvested produce. The pilot Cooking Crew at Comegys Elementary benefits from a partnership with Bartram’s Community Farm which is less than a mile away from the school. One of the Cooking Crew adult volunteers picks up the produce from the farm on his way to cook at Comegys. Students are provided with the harvest list for Bartram’s so when they are selecting recipes, they make sure to include foods that will be available. In the Cookbook Scoreboard, a newsletter that is printed for Comegys students and parents each week, we include information about the Bartram’s Farm Stand. This marketing in exchange for produce is a mutually beneficial partnership for Comegys and Bartram’s.

The Cooking Crew – Community Garden food sharing partnership depends on clear and reliable communication. The ability to communicate harvest lists, recipe needs, and pick-up schedules are all vital in fostering a high quality relationship. If the necessary commitment is made between the two groups, the result is a more resilient community and healthier food system.


All supplies for Cooking Crew are available at Restaurant Depot.


Cooking Crew is best implemented in a large open space with lots of tables.

Cooking Crew Mastery


The first knife technique to master is THE CLAW, where the knife rests on the knuckle to guide precision cutting.



At first it isn’t natural to hold your hand this way. This technique requires mentorship from an experienced cook and practiced discipline to learn.


The first step when butchering an onion is to slice off just the very tip of the roots. This prevents dirt from contaminating the onion when slicing it in half through the roots and top (the third step, after slicing off the top).



Preparing to dice an onion.



“When discipline is sown, like a good seed, it yields a harvest of things that fulfill and satisfy us–things that make us happy and release peace and joy in our lives.” JOYCE MEYER


Sweet potatoes can be challenging to cut. Students learn to ‘chunkify’, which is cutting the sweet potato (or other dense root vegetable) into manageable pieces before dicing into the desired shape.


The ‘paper cutter’ is a technique to mince food (like the garlic here) into very fine pieces. The key to a good paper cutter is stretching your fingers on your non-knife hand towards the ceiling, and keeping the knife on the cutting board while rocking it back and forth.



Almost all cooking crew dishes are enhanced with spices or herbs freshly ground in the mortar and pestle. The key to using this tool properly is holding the mortar down while covering the top to keep all the food inside while pounding with the pestle.



With close adult mentorship young chefs are fully capable of practicing advanced cooking techniques. Here we’re pureeing a sauce with an immersion blender (the blade should always stay underneath the liquid) until its silky smooth.



Grating beets is a messy and potentially dangerous task. Masterying the box grater is all about balance and focus.

Cooking Crew Team Meeting

At the beginning of cooking crew each team of students and chefs gathers to plan how they will work together to make awesome food.


Every chef wheres an apron and a hat. Both can be decorated in free time.



The Daily Plan is the guiding document of cooking crew. Each team creates one. It lists all the tasks that need to be completed to create a meal (making, serving, and cleaning).



A good Daily Plan breaks things down into the 3 main time periods of cooking crew: set up (4-bin, recipe creation), cooking, and clean-up (service, 4-bin).



All students sign up for tasks.



Pins are awarded for individual achievement in behavior and skill development.



Pins are worn with pride.

Cooking Crew Hygiene

Cook Clean, Cook Organized – this is the motto of cooking crew.


Everyone in cooking crew washes their hands before cooking. If you touch something dirty, wash your hands again.



All the surfaces are wiped clean with sanitizing water (diluted bleach) before and after cooking crew.



All produce is washed thoroughly before cooking.

Cooking Crew Service



























Cooking Crew- The Radical Transformation of School Food






Cooking Crew is a food education activity where students create a meal to serve to their peers. Every Monday and Wednesday middle schoolers at Comegys Elementary are responsible for cooking for the 120 kids and adults in the after-school program. Here’s the curriculum. Here’s the flow of activities during cooking crew:

  1. Team Meeting- students and mentors put on uniforms, review scores, create daily plan and sign up for tasks, are awarded pins, and begin set-up tasks.
  2. There are 2 set-up tasks, and students divide themselves to complete them. 1-2 students create the recipe for the next week. The rest of the students set-up their team’s 4-bin systemwash their hands, sanitize surfaces, wash ingredients, and begin to cook.
  3. The main task of cooking crew is creating lots of really tasty food in a safe, clean environment. Students master a variety of techniques. During cooking time, if a student isn’t engaged he/she can earn points at the fitness station or in an enrichment activity (art, journalism, documentary media).
  4. Cooking Crew fosters peer education. Encourage early elementary teachers to send a select few young students to participate in cooking crew (it’s a proven incentive to encourage good classroom behavior).
  5. The end of cooking crew is dedicated to food service and clean-up. All cooking tools are cleaned, dried, organized, and inventoried. 4-bin systems are dismantled. Students who researched the nutritional benefits and cuisine of their dishes get precedent to serve. All chefs eat after the whole community is served.
  6. After many weeks of Cooking Crew, the team with the most points wins the Watermelon Cup. The chef with the most points with the Pineapple Trapohy for Most Valuable Chef.

Here’s how to get a cooking crew started at your school:

  1. Find space. The gym (with tables) or cafeteria is ideal, but any open classroom (or picnic tables outside) will work. Access to a water source and drain is key.
  2. Divide the students into teams (we had 3 on each day- red, blue, black).
  3. Recruit adult mentors. There should be at least 1 adult per team to supervise cooking (we had 2-4). If possible, find an adult to float around the cooking space making sure everyone is cooking good food safely (an experienced pro or home cook/chef is ideal). Finding adults to supervise fitness, art, journalism, and documentary media stations is also idea.
  4. Gather supplies. You will need cooking tools, cleaning bins, serving dishes, aprons, hats, cameras etc. Organize them by team. You will also need food to cook each week. Think locally. Through a relationship with Bartram’s Farm and Community Food Resource Center, we cooked with the freshest produce in Philadelphia.
  5. Print out the materials you need to stay organized and keep score.

Cooking Crew Jobs for Little Chefs









Cooking Crew Creations

“A jazz musician can improvise based on his knowledge of music. He understands how things go together. For a chef, once you have that basis, that’s when cuisine is truly exciting.” Charlie Trotter


apricot parfait



Sweet Potato Kale Salad



Fruit Sushi










Cucumber Pickle



Chard Slaw



Black Bean Dip



Sunrise Part II






Lemon White Bean Dip



Beets, Clementines, Lettuce



Potatoes, Thyme





Carrot, Cranberry Salad



Lime Pickled Beet