Home chefs from AHRC New York City were treated to a series of Thanksgiving-themed cooking classes hosted in partnership with Common Threads,  a national nonprofit that provides children and families cooking and nutrition education to encourage healthy habits that contribute to wellness. The classes were organized thanks to ongoing support from HSBC, which helped to provide the ingredients to class members’ homes, and Karen Zuckerman, AHRC NYC’s Director of Community Partner Engagement.

The classes were taught by Chef Colleen Bozzi, who has worked with Common Threads for several years. She said she had experience teaching cooks of all ages and abilities.

Chef Colleen holds up her skillet for the group to see.

Chef Colleen holds up her skillet for the group to see.

Honestly, I really enjoy teaching from the youngsters all the way to adults no matter who you are or where you come from,” Chef Colleen said. “It’s fun to adapt to different situations.

Favorite Time of the Year

Ayanna Coleman showed the group the early stages of her mac and cheese sauce.

Early stage of the mac and cheese sauce

On Wednesday, November 17th, cooks from AHRC NYC’s Employment and Business Services-Brooklyn and Residential Services learned how to make butternut squash mac and cheese and pumpkin pie bites. The cooks had a variety of experience levels, from little time in the kitchen to regularly cooking for themselves. Ayanna Coleman says she enjoys cooking and even prepared a meal the previous evening, making a dish of chicken, rice, and corn. Other cooks who took part included Jenisa Inoa and Maria DeJesus.

This is my favorite part of the year, and it came so fast!” Chef Colleen said to the class. “It feels like it was summer and now it is suddenly holiday time.

Chef Colleen took the class members through each step of the recipe, slowing down whenever it was requested. She inserted helpful general cooking advice whenever possible, such as demonstrating proper vegetable cutting techniques and instructing that “the most important tools in the kitchen are a pair of clean hands.

Stress-Free Kitchens

Most of all, Chef Colleen wanted her students to know that cooking at home should be fun above all else. “Cooking like this doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s all about being creative—sometimes you don’t have something in the house and you move to improvise.” If cooks didn’t have butternut squash, for example, it could easily be substituted for any other kind of squash, pumpkin, or sweet potato.

It’s so chaotic around the holidays and we never think it’s going to work out–and then it does! It reminds us that we shouldn’t worry when we’re in the kitchen,” Chef Collen said.

Cooking provides several benefits to chefs of all ability levels—enhancement of motor skills, reading recipes, measuring ingredients large and small, social skills, and more. Chef Colleen added that cooking involves having a shared goal that everyone can work towards together.

Cooking is something that we all will be doing for the rest of our lives,” she said. “Being together, working with each other, learning these skills, learning about textures and tastes and smells–everything gets activated and you learn no matter what level you’re on.