By Brenda Torres-Figueroa, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School
There are probably few things more exciting to a high school student than learning about history (or any subject) through food. In that sense, the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School curriculum allows students to explore and develop critical thinking skills through concepts of food history, food sourcing, and food justice through their work around urban agriculture and sustainability.
On June 4th, 2015, a group of students took over the kitchen of San Lucas United Church for a unique culinary hands-on experience with cooking guru, Roberto Pérez Pérez. As Roberto stated at the beginning of the workshop, “The focus will be the utilization of fresh ingredients, to make something delicious, to talk about the history of these foods, and to go old school: No flavor enhancers, no fake food coloring – just real food.”
Roberto has dedicated years to craft and research recipes and flavors using ingredients that are not only common in Puerto Rico, but throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. Through Urban Pilón, he progressed in the creation of culinary experiences in an attempt to diversify and expose the rich and complex culinary history that is a staple of our people. Earlier in the year, he visited the school’s Puerto Rican History and Culture class to demonstrate the making of cassava bread, the main source of sustenance for Taíno people. Last Thursday, our students had the opportunity to create a four-course meal that included: salmon and pear ceviche, Caribbean collard greens, fricasé de pollo, mofongo, and finally – toasted coconut and almond fruit salad.
Jeremiah Castro, a junior at the school, whose cooking experience comes from learning at a very young age to feed his eight brothers and sisters, he expressed that he was thankful for the opportunity. He shared that this learning experience allowed for new skills to develop, “I learned how to pace myself, how to multitask when I cook, and how to work as a team to make a meal. I also learned about the culture in Caribbean recipes and where they come from. The cooking workshop inspired me more to become a chef.”
About the experience, Roberto concluded, “They were eager to get their hands dirty, to cut, chop, taste, blend, and do all the hard work it would take to feed about 40 of us. I was really surprised by the knowledge many of them had – more knowledge than I had at their age. Although there are more and more TV cooking shows, there are less people cooking today – but not at Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School. The kids can cook!!! And it showed as we made a delicious meal.”