Maggie's School Visit - A Cynefin Project
Recently, I had the privilege of teaching a cooking class to year nine students at Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy School in Wales.
The class was part of the Cynefin project, which was organized by the Arts Council in Wales as part of their response to the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015. It was a wonderful and eye-opening experience for me, and I believe the students had a great time too.
My plan was to teach them how to make two dishes: Naija Stew (veggie) from my "Melting Pot" recipe book and Roti - a flatbread, both made from scratch. I'm happy to say that the class went really well. The students were very responsive and cooked delicious food. What made it special for me was discovering that most, if not all, of the students were experiencing African food for the first time.
During the class, I realized that our young people are amazing and full of so much promise and potential. Once they are engaged, they have so much to offer, and I feel that we need to find different ways to get them engaged and bring them out of their shell. Food and cooking is a way to reach the unreachable. It is a universal thing that we can use to come together as communities.
As we cook, experiment and eat together, we create opportunities to start conversations, opportunities for bonding and even for new friendships. The kitchen is a place that allows people to express their creativity without fear of judgement. This is what I saw happen with these young people as we worked together.
Food and cooking cuts across cultures and age groups, so different generations and races can come together through food and cooking. I felt like I was indeed contributing to the well-being of these young ones. Initially, many of the children did not know what to expect, but by the end of the class, they were relaxed, animated, and their attention and engagement was high.
One of the things I loved about sharing my cooking knowledge with these students was teaching them the “african” way to taste their dish by tapping a little onto the palm of their hand - a common practice in most African kitchens. This was something my grandmother had taught me, and it felt like a privilege to be able to pass on that little nugget of history and culture.
At the end of the class, I asked them to present or plate their food in an attractive way. And with no formal training, each student came up with unique and wonderful presentations of the food as you can see from the pictures. I had to smile when I saw some of the students, after they had done their plating, started eating their food even before I got around to taking pictures!
Food and cooking can break down social barriers.
Sometimes in a classroom, there can be that one student who is a bit of a drama queen or a bit of a disruptor. In this class, I had one such student, but by the end of the class, she was engaged and invested, and we had great conversations. I was later to learn that she had gone on to make arrangements with her mom to make the same dish at home. It was heartwarming to see the turn-around. I don't think I would have had an opportunity like that if the relaxed atmosphere had not been created in the kitchen as we cooked together.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience. I felt inspired. Frankly, I would like to do this kind of thing more often.
My mission is not just about selling spices and sauces, but actually about using food (and cooking) to open people's eyes and hearts, to start conversations, to engage and bond as friends, family and communities.
As we cook and eat together, we are reminded that we all share common virtues and there is so much we can learn from each other.