(Above) Camp Riverbend cook Eric Severson and youth Ty R. dish out French fries, gravy, and cheese curds for poutine on Canadian food night.
The youth at Camp Riverbend Youth Transitional Facility in La Grande have been getting a taste of cuisine from around the world thanks to a weekly culinary class.
Since May 2018, group life coordinator Donna Reedy takes at least four youth every Sunday to help cook Eric Severson plan, prepare, and cook food for the Camp Riverbend facility.
“New youth that come to the facility, they don’t know much about a kitchen — how to boil water, fry eggs, or wash dishes,” Reedy said. “I try to take different youth so they get a chance to learn new skills. The youth enjoy the classes so much that they seek me out to ask what is next and who is cooking.”
Youth learn the importance of safety and sanitation in the kitchen, and basic culinary skills like cutting vegetables correctly.
The youth are able to look through cookbooks to find a dish they want to cook, usually something they miss from childhood. Reedy said the youth have chosen several inventive dishes, especially for first-time cooks, from Carlos’ shrimp omelet to beef tongue cooked by Isaiah.
“The youth can’t wait for the meal to be served to get reactions from the rest of the facility,” Reedy said.
The cooking program also has taken youth on a culinary journey around the world. Youth prepared tamales from Mexico, gyros and salad from Greece, and poutine and maple lollipops from Canada. Recently they had an African-themed dinner.
While some youth have expressed interest in a culinary career, for most, the program provides life lessons they can use when they are back in the community.
“The activity is very important for the youth to acquire skills learning measurements, times, and working as a team,” Reedy said. “The basic cooking skills they learn will help them when they are released and start a new life. … I work side by side with these youths while cooking, (and) the laughter, teamwork, and brainstorming ideas are awesome. It makes what we do feel rewarding.”