Kitchen Possible Empowers Children Through Cooking

Photo Above: Gavin is looking in awe at the chicken he just seared.

Photo Above: Gavin is making a bèchamel sauce from scratch for his roasted vegetable mac and cheese dish.

Photo Above: Chefs Jason Vincent and Ben Lustbader guide Gavin as he prepares a creamy tomato sauce for pasta.

Kitchen Possible Cooking Classes for Youth (ages 9-12):

  • Mondays, January 7 – March 11, 4 to 5:30 p.m., Gads Center, 1919 W. Cullerton in Pilsen
  • Saturdays, January 19 to March 16, Noon to 1:30 p.m., Family Plex, 3219 W. Carroll in East Garfield Park

By Princess-India Alexander

When 9-year-old Gavin of East Garfield Park woke up on Saturday mornings last summer, cartoons were not the first thing on his mind. Cooking and experiencing new foods were.

“Every Saturday morning Gavin would wake up excited to go,” said his mother, Dominique Moore . “He’d wake me up telling me ‘Mom it’s time for me to cook’ and I just loved how much he looked forward to it.”

That’s exactly the impact Katie Lowman, an avid home cook and advertising strategist, hoped to have when she founded Kitchen Possible in the summer of 2017. Kitchen Possible teaches weekly cooking lessons for children ages 9 to 12 in Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods. In these lessons, Katie and her team of volunteers aim to help students feel empowered in and out of the kitchen.

Photo Above: Katie Loman, Kitchen Possible Founder, with Semaj, who’s putting a little salt on his dish.

Zaire is making crepe.

“Kids in lower income neighborhoods are statistically less likely to believe that they have control over what happens in their lives,” says Katie. “We use cooking to show them that when they set a goal, follow a plan, and push through when things get tough, they can make amazing things happen. This mindset shapes the way they approach goals, challenges and their futures in general.”

Through a $5,000 Acting Up award from The Chicago Community Trust, Katie was able to bring Kitchen Possible to East Garfield Park, a West Side Chicago neighborhood with a food insecurity rate between 35.1 percent and 57.8 percent, according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The Trust awarded $150,500 to 37 community projects that benefit neighborhoods and the public good. These ideas were sparked through the Trust’s fifth annual On the Table, a citywide event during which Chicago-area residents came together on May 8, 2018, in mealtime conversations to engage in meaningful dialogue, develop new relationships and inspire action to make a difference in their communities.

Chef James Garron from @chickenshop taught the youth how to make the perfect fried chicken sandwich and how important respect is in every stage of the process.

Kitchen Possible ran an eight-week cooking session at Family Plex, 3219 W. Carroll in Chicago, from July 7 to August 25. Each Saturday, 15 children ages 9 to 12 created an increasingly challenging meal with a different life lesson. Dishes ranged from fruit crepes to fried chicken sandwiches with quick pickled peppers and roasted vegetable mac and cheese.

During classes, students learned values and self-esteem building lessons that they can use in their everyday lives, such as perseverance, patience, being intentional and the importance of asking for help.  Katie herself learned to cook at the age of six and since then, has always remembered how powerful and capable the simple act made her feel.

“When a child learns to cook, they’re learning about more than food. They’re learning that they have the power to make things happen, to accomplish things,” she said. “This is a feeling that transfers to so much in their lives outside of the kitchen.”

At the end of each class the kids wrapped up leftovers to bring to their families, and in those moments Katie saw the successes of the program. They were proud of what they made and eager to show what they learned.

Photo Above: Honesty is searing the meat for her stir fry.

Photo Above: Rafael is putting the finishing touches on his stir fry.

Dominique Moore sent her son Gavin to Kitchen Possible because, much like Katie, she looked at cooking as a skill Gavin could apply to life in general.

“We’re not going to always be there as parents and it’s important that he can take care of himself and be self-sufficient,” says Dominique  . “And right now I want him to maybe pass it on to his kids and be able to continue traditions. I mean he still cooks even today.”

On January 19, Kitchen Possible plans to start a new series of cooking classes in East Garfield Park and welcome back some of the children they worked with during the summer. The cooking program also runs in the Pilsen neighborhood on Mondays after school.

“Food is so inextricably linked to community, and that’s part of why it’s so special. It just begs to be shared and enjoyed together,” said Katie. “I hope [the kids] left our class with an understanding that they are powerful, and that they have the ability to make amazing things happen. Some of them clearly picked up a love of cooking, and they’ll probably carry it with them throughout their lives – that’s amazing.”

Photos by Marisa Paat

View Kitchen Possible’s Acting Up award video application: