Diary of a Busy VoCul Lab Day
Similar to the diary of a Monday in the warehouse feature we did a few weeks ago, our Farm Share Assistant and VoCul Translator, Kaylee Kuehn, documented a busy VoCul lab day just a few short weeks ago. We also had talented photographer, TJ Turner, capture some images to accompany Kaylee’s story. We hope that you enjoy this piece and that it helps you gain some insight into this one-of-a-kind program.
My name is Kaylee and I do the Spanish to English interpretation at VoCul as well as culinary assistance during class time. In addition to all the fun work I do with VoCul, I am also TGA’s Farm Share Assistant! Today I will be taking you through a typically busy Friday in the kitchen as we hit the halfway mark of the 10 weeks of the culinary training part of the program.
There are two in-person lab days a week, they take place each Friday and Saturday, and today is Friday, August 20th. I usually arrive at the Eat for Equity kitchen about 10 minutes before class begins at 9 am. Today Chef Lachelle, TGA’s Culinary Education Manager, and Chef Tee, her Culinary Assistant, have already been in for about an hour preparing the kitchen with the necessary ingredients and equipment for today’s lab. Most of the students are already there, Chef Lachelle puts out breakfast on one of the front tables for people to enjoy. There’s light chatter as everyone slowly begins to wake up with each sip of coffee. Students are dressed in their white chef coats and today we received our VoCul branded aprons, everyone looks very professional.
At a little past 9 am Chef Lachelle gathers the class and runs through the agenda for the day. Each lab session focuses on a different component and today the students will be learning about salad and salad dressing preparation — there’s a lot more to it than you might think! First up, we begin with the completion of Rouxbe’s live graded lab. Rouxbe is the online learning platform that we use, and on Fridays, the students are assessed and graded on a lab assignment that they began on their own time earlier in the week. The task of the day is to make a simple salad, this includes the addition of different types of greens for a balance in flavor and a vinaigrette of each student’s own creation.
First, students choose their greens and work on creating their own version of the perfect vinaigrette. My favorite part of lab (after enjoying all the delicious food, of course) is sampling everyone’s creations when they are given creative liberty like this. At about 10:30 am Karin, TGA’s Farm Share Manager, arrives at the kitchen with two of her interns that will be cooking alongside the VoCul students for a few hours. Shortly after, Chef Robin Asbell arrives at the kitchen, she will be the guest instructor for the day teaching the students about vegan and vegetarian cooking. Students will be graded on their simple salad preparation by the appearance, seasoning, and flavor of their dish.
Around 11 am students gather at the front of the room to watch Chef Robin demonstrate a few of her dressing recipes including a balsamic vinaigrette and goat cheese ranch dressing. Students are able to ask questions about Chef Robin’s line of work as well as her experience as a personal chef. From then on the kitchen transitions into preparing for our “family meal” which is a meal that everyone, including the instructors and myself, helps to prepare featuring themes from the current week’s lecture. Today’s menu includes a fresh watermelon-basil salad with mango, a cold bean dish with fresh vegetables, ground turkey and shredded chicken lettuce wraps, and a fresh salad prepared by chef Robin.
The students were put into groups to divide and conquer the meal preparation with one table working on the wraps, another on the watermelon-mango salad, and the third on the cold bean salad. Throughout class instructors, Lachelle, Tee, and Orko, visit each station tasting as they go. During cook time, there is a schedule for dishwashing, each student is allotted a 30-minute time slot where they wash and put away dishes that have accumulated within the past half hour, this ensures that there isn’t a mountain of dishes at the end of the day.
By 2 pm the family meal has been completed and laid out on the front table for everyone to help themselves to. Some extra side dishes have been added including, pickled swiss chard stems, and salted lime tortilla crisps to enjoy with fresh tomato salsa. Everyone sits down to enjoy their meal together as light banter and approving smiles are shared amongst participants. Once the meal is finished, everyone joins together to finish cleaning the kitchen before the lecture begins.
At 3 pm Chef Lachelle begins the lecture with a slide show about different salads and salad components. From there she transitions into a discussion about sustainable food systems, a very important and often overlooked aspect of working in the food industry. The class discusses the importance of buying local and seasonal produce, and how the availability of produce will depend on the region in which they are cooking. The lesson wraps up with questions from the students and planning for next week’s family meal. It is now around 4:45 pm and students are collecting their belongings and getting ready to head out. Another long and successful day of training is coming to a close and we get to do it all again tomorrow!