cooking prep“Who’s on poppy seed and who’s on toffee triangles?”  begins our Why Cook? class, which takes place on Friday mornings at Connecticut Experiential Learning Center.  Students gather around a dining room table that is filled with an assortment of bowls, measuring cups, and wet and dry ingredients.

cooking prep After reading the recipes, students discuss what they now know about what is needed.  As students share their understanding of the recipes they are about to produce, a lot of discussion related to cooking chemistry takes place, such as what happens when the fat of the butter meets up with the granulated sugar, what color changes to look for, proper aerating of egg whites, and why it is helpful to separate eggs when they are cold but bring them to room-temperature to maximize their volume.

Why do we cook?  This provides students with a lifelong ability to provide for themselves and others well-made and healthful food.  Students gain an appreciation for the detail and considerations that are involved in food preparation.  In today’s society, young people often have very little relationship with food and how it is prepared.  Attending to detail may not be the norm for young people on a regular basis – it takes encouragement …  

And even when the egg whites are carefully tended, and all of our efforts go towards combining ingredients one at a time, students still forget to add flour to the poppy seed cake.  Even then, learning happens – each one of them has an idea that adding flour after the batter is mixed will deflate the egg whites.  Yet, we wait and hope for the best, knowing that the process and our efforts were valuable, and that each time we make a new recipe, we are discovering more about the fine art of cooking.

CELC students had a practicum exam in May where they prepared, set-up, and served a full meal for 32 invited guests.  View our menu and student writing, which shares their learning and impressions of the experience.Cook prep/peppers

Why Cook? Practicum Dinner

A Culinary Experience Brought to You By the Chefs of CELC

All of the following were made by students, from the mayonnaise in the chicken salad to the sauce in the lasagna … Enjoy!



Chicken salad sandwiches on toasted potato bread

“Yeast needs to be “alive” so the water temperature is very important, between 70 – 80 degrees.” – Henry

“Potato needs to be cut evenly so it does not burn.” – Evan

“Proper emulsion for mayonnaise is critical – patience is the secret of the oil … drop-by-drop, streaming into the whirling machine.  Oil must go in a slow steady stream.” – Maria

Roasted red pepper hummus with pita chips

“Red peppers need to be cut the same size so that they all cook evenly.” – Stefan

“Stir the tahini to mix in the oil before adding to the other ingredients.” – Hannah


Traditional meat lasagna

“… get the dried tomato paste and burn it on the bottom of the pan so that when the sauce is added, the paste will come up off the bottom and release the flavor.” – Jared

“Cook onions first until almost caramelized to soften and bring out flavor.” – Henry

“You put the herbs on your hands and rub the herbs into the sauce – you can tell the perfect amount of herbs by the aroma as you add them into the sauce.” – Hannah

Pasta primavera with Alfredo sauce



Beef stew with noodles

“When you move the meat while cooking, be sure it has no resistance so as not to remove the browned portion.” – Hannah

“Pour the wine slowly to avoid getting any sediment from the bottle into the stew” – Henry


Fruit salad

Chocolate mint bars

“Important that the sugar dissolves completely into the butter.” – Evan

Crème Brûlée

“Mix and strain the egg, cream, and sugar mixture well so as to remove air bubbles and avoid air pockets during baking.” – Henry


“You must be aware of when to stop mixing the dough – look for a color change and when ingredients are all blended together.” – Jared




“Sugar must be completely dissolved in liquid before adding heat.” – Jody

“Heat slowly and be patient to avoid forming sugar crystals.” – Henry

Iced tea

mayonnaise / proper emulsion “I love to cook. It was difficult getting it all done, but we did it!”                                                                          -Iron Chef Jared


“It was awesome! Red peppers were a challenge because I had to cut each piece the same size.” -Chef Stefan


“ My highlight of this experience is that I was able to try making a variety of food. I was able to also learn new techniques and see things come together. I got to cook food that I had never even known the ingredients to. I don’t cook on my own time, so this was an experience that was pretty new. I must say, it was a fantastic one.

A challenge for me was working so closely with people. It was crowded, and sometimes I wanted to do things differently than my partners. It got a little frustrating at times, but I didn’t want to get angry with people who were working as hard as I was. So I took a little time to get myself under control and got back in there. Overall, it was great experience!”creme brulee /practicum

-Chef Hannah


“I liked making everything. One of my favorite things was when Hannah and I put two containers of cottage cheese into the food processor and mushed it up. Once it was done it became very smooth, and we put it in the lasagna. My biggest problem was roasting the pepper over Maria’s gas stove. It kept falling. It was good once I had Jared there to help. I had a lot of fun!”

-Chef Jody

“One of my highpoints with cooking was cracking eggs. I love cracking eggs! I also loved making and cooking all the food. It was fun! My favorite food was the crème brûlée. One of my challenges was to work with everyone. It was just a little hard to work with rushing people. I got through it by taking a break and calming down. I went back into the room, and it was better working with everyone! I had a great time. I think everyone did a great job!” -Chef Jenna


Why Cook? practicum dinner “My highlight of the Why Cook? practicum was being able to make delicious food for parents and guests. The most challenging aspect of the practicum was cooking with poison ivy and a broken arm. I overcame that challenge by wearing gloves.”

-Chef Henry

“One of the things I liked making were the chicken salad sandwiches. It was fun caramelizing the onions and chopping the carrots. The most difficult food to make was probably the mint cookie bars. It was a fun experience for me because I like cooking. It was fun watching other people cook the desserts and foods.”

-Chef Evan

cooking practicum prep tomato/ practicum prep cook prep delicious prep practicum creme brulee prep