Project Success’s cooking class offers Minneapolis students an opportunity to learn and gather – Advice Eating

On Wednesday nights, the Project Success Institute fills with the smells and sounds of a kitchen: the smell of melting chocolate one week, the crackling of dumplings the next.

The chefs behind the culinary creations are Minneapolis high school students who decided to spend their evening at a nonprofit in the Lowry Hill neighborhood, learn a new skill, and taste the results.

“Cooking is collaborative,” says James Rone, project manager at the institute. “There’s so much to get excited about in a cooking class – even if you’re a lousy cook, the result of the science experiment is something to eat and share.”

The cooking class has proven to be the most popular program at the institute, a program offered by Project Success, a nonprofit organization that aims to connect Minneapolis students to their purpose and encourage them to dream about their future and to to plan. In addition to cooking classes, the institute offers other free term courses — including programming, personal finance, and bike maintenance — designed to develop students’ interests and life skills.

Rone has been with Project Success since 2017 and started out with menus full of American staples like burgers and pasta. But then a student asked if they could make a traditional Ecuadorian dish that she loved to cook with her family. He agreed.

“That broke what seemed possible to them,” said Rone. Suddenly students were suggesting recipes from their own cultures or cultures they wanted to learn more about. Now the menus contain recipes from all over the world. Rone usually ends the class with a brief lesson on the history and development of each dish.

Chamsiyatou Iniwe, a senior at Southwest High School, was the one who suggested making dèguè, a West African dessert made with couscous and yogurt. She has been spending weeknights at the institute since her freshman year and has earned several certificates.

“I’m learning a lot here and it’s something that keeps me busy after school,” she said as she poured the dèguè into containers to take home. The recipe was a little different than what she makes with her mom, she said, but it still tasted great.

Iniwe has also taken several college tours with Project Success and has discovered what she is looking for (and isn’t) on a campus. The nonprofit’s other programs include theater experiences, where students can both attend shows and perform, and camping and canoe trips for students who want to learn more about the great outdoors. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the group’s international travel, but Project Success has also taken students on several trips abroad.

The institute’s first courses were offered in 2017. By the following year, the courses had grown into full multi-week courses covering a variety of subjects. Since then, more than 600 students have obtained a certificate in at least one of the courses.

During the 2020-2021 school year, classes were offered virtually and materials, including food for the cooking classes, were delivered to students’ homes.

“The students were so engaged because they could tell we really cared about them and wanted them there,” Rone said.

Being together on Zoom doesn’t compare to meeting in person, but it allows for the continuation of relationships, he said. The virtual cooking course proved to be just as popular as the face-to-face course with a waiting list.

Laura Garcia, director of schools and curriculum at Project Success, said students who come to the program often express an interest in learning independent living and career-building skills that they might not otherwise acquire during the school day.

“Then they come and they feel like this is where they can be themselves, so they keep coming back,” she said.

Oliver Czel, a senior at Southwest, has enjoyed learning new cooking skills and meeting students from other schools.

“It’s such a nice community of people and a great way to while away a few hours,” he said.

Czel’s favorite recipe so far has been the fudge, although his turned out to be a bit lumpy. But Rone reassured him and the other students: Grabbed chocolate may not look perfect, but it still tastes good.

Jessica Loma, a sophomore at Patrick Henry High School, was also excited to take the fudge home to her family. She signed up for the cooking class because she wants to learn how to cook before living alone in a college dorm.

“Plus, it’s a lot more fun than sitting at home after school,” she said.

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