DOWNTOWN — As thousands of people flocked to the second day of the Taste of Chicago, scarfing down hamburgers, ice cream and other calorie-rich dishes, a group of young chefs from East Side were showing 150 spectators how to make a light and fresh alternative: a healthy, leafy, antioxidant-filled spinach vinaigrette salad.
The cooking exhibition was sponsored by After School Matters and led by Gloria Hafer, who has been a culinary instructor for 41 years and was on the short list to host WTTW’s "Check, Please!"
“These kids need an opportunity to learn a trade and people to help make their lives better," the Hafer said.
After School Matters' Culinary Arts Program serves more than 80 students between ages 14 and 18. They meet from 8 a.m. to noon five days a week, and learn how to prepare healthy dishes and the meanings of culinary terms like mise en place (French for “putting in place”).
“Cooking is like an art. It is the process of art," said Karen Gonzalez, 15, an East Side resident who attends Gwendolyn Brooks High School and aspires to be a pastry chef some day.
“I like trying something new and taking something simple and making it into something big” added Erika Magallanes, 16, also of East Side and a rising senior at George Washington High School.
Erika wants to be an architect and says the two fields are closely related, because in both a person is building something and piecing together pieces of a puzzle.
Perspectives Charter School student Kody Cook, 15, had different reason for taking part.
“I just didn’t want to be sitting around the house all summer playing video games," Kody said.
The three students’ sunny demeanors matched the pleasant ambiance of the Taste as they listed their favorites foods: burgers (Kody), pasta (Erika), and any sort of pastry (Karen). Erika, specifically, is a huge fan of cooking shows on television and particularly enjoys the antics of Gordon Ramsay on Fox’s "Hell’s Kitchen."
To determine who would perform the cooking demonstration at the Taste, the teens were split into teams and competed against each other in order to see which group could produce the best spinach vinaigrette salad.