Owsley County Students Make Healthy Meals Tasty

The hallways of Owsley County High School filled with the smell of freshly baked goods, and students who followed their noses found the classroom where cooking was the day’s lesson.  “Kids have been excited all morning,” said Dustin Estridge, AgriScience teacher at OCHS.  “We’ve had students stop in and say, ‘What’s that smell?’  And remember, this is healthy, wholesome food.  And they’re coming by, ‘Hey, can I have a cupcake?’  And they’re these muffins that are super-healthy.”

The bakers were students from Agriculture and Consumer Family Sciences classes, led by the instructor for the day, Chef Jim Whaley.  Whaley is the Chef Consultant for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Farm-to-School Program, the Kentucky School Nutrition Association, and Jefferson County Public Schools.  He also teaches community-based cooking classes, working with partners like the YMCA and the Boy Scouts of America.  “As a chef, I love getting to take the passion and love for cooking that I have and getting to share it, working side by side with students and teaching them skills that they might use on into their adult lives.”

Whaley came to OCHS as part of a range of projects with the Berea College Promise Neighborhood Initiative.  In the fall, elementary students attended food tastings in their school cafeterias, where they tried kale soup.  In the spring, Whaley will work with a student team as they create a recipe to enter into Kentucky’s Junior Iron Chef competition. “I love coming to Owsley County Schools because they have such a wonderful Farm-to-School Program working with their FFA and with the Ag classes,” he says.  “They bring in a wonderful variety of fresh fruits and vegetables from their garden. Then I can come in and work with the students on how to take those wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables that they’re already seeing, they’re already familiar with, because they’ve been working with these in the garden, through the farm-to-school program, or seeing them served in their cafeteria, and just add to that, and we can continue building on the notion of eating more fresh, healthy food. “

The first recipe was for fresh, fall-winter butternut squash muffins.  “We take butternut squash puree and add it into a muffin recipe, so the students have been learning about properly mixing dry and wet ingredients, learning a little bit about healthy eating, healthy recipes,” Whaley said. “The muffin recipe also has olive oil in it instead of butter or regular oil.”

While one side of the classroom was reserved for baking, the other side sizzled.

“We’ve also been making a garden marinara,” Whaley explained.  “The students have been chopping fresh garlic, chopping onion, chopping fresh broccoli, and then I’ve shown them how to sauté. I brought my food mill, and we’ve been milling the tomatoes, and then they put the milled tomato juice in, and, with fresh basil, we’re cooking up a really nice marinara sauce.”

Estridge was happy watching his chefs-in-training.  “The reaction has been great.  The students have been like, ‘Mr. Estridge, you have to eat this, this is so good.’  Kids don’t care if it’s healthy, or not healthy.  Kids care about what it tastes like,” he said.   “And Chef Whaley is helping us come up with healthy ways to utilize some of the fresh vegetables we’re using to basically entice our students to eat healthy, so I think it’s wonderful, I really do.”

Noah Shelby, 17, is an 11th-grader at OCHS.  He decided to take Agriculture with no prior experience in the field and would recommend it to other students.  “It’s not a real working-class—you enjoy it, you get out and you have fun. You get outside, you get hands-on with it, you get to feel the experience of what you do.”  As for the two recipes, he is confident he can recreate them for any of the students who smelled the class projects but missed out on tasting them.  “Oh yeah, I could just make it right up for them,” he said.  “I might just do that.”

Chef Whaley’s OCHS Cooking Class Gallery