Rutgers-Camden students can now cook in a brand new teaching kitchen
CAMDEN — Students at Rutgers University-Camden have discovered the joy of cooking and nutrition in a newly opened, state-of-the-art Teaching Kitchen located in the Raptor Dining Hall on the main floor of the campus center.
Why the need for the Teaching Kitchen?
Rutgers-Camden is an intimate campus with only one dining hall so the hope is that the teaching kitchen will add a lot of diversity to the space, said Kristin Walker, executive director of special initiatives, events and dining.
“We also wanted our students to come together and being to create and learn about nutrition because a big part of our dining program centers on nutrition,” she said.
Food is community and the idea is always to build community at Rutgers-Camden, Walker said.
The Teaching Kitchen was supposed to open in the fall of 2019, but then the COVID-pandemic hit, and plans were put on the back burner, she said.
“We wanted to add diversity to our dining program at Rutgers-Camden and have a gathering space for students,” Walker said. Adding space to build community and teach about nutrition were the two main drivers behind the kitchen, she said.
What does the kitchen look like?
The kitchen is stocked with five induction burners which allow the students to cook their own food like stir-fries, omelets, and rice dishes, It also allows executive chefs to teach students how to make several common and unique dishes, said registered dietician, Nick Mazza.
There is also a waffle iron for students to make their own waffles in the morning at the station which is loaded with toppings like cinnamon, chocolate syrup, and caramel.
At the saute station, students can choose from a range of ingredients, including grains, noodles, tofu, proteins, cheeses, and an assortment of vegetables. The cooking station features five flat electric griddles along with a host of condiments and just about every spice imaginable.
At “Smoothie Paradise,” Mazza said students can pick from a variety of fruits and vegetables and yogurts to whip up their favorite concoction. They can also use the blender to make dips (since they have garbanzo beans and an allergen-friendly sun butter), toppings, and sauces.
“We want students to basically use this space and all the ingredients stocked in it to be able to create their own inventions. We want them to make their own comfort foods, but we also want to challenge them with the ingredients we have available,” Mazza said.
The kitchen is open daily for students to prepare meals and snacks tailored to their own tastes, dietary restrictions, and faith.
Classes on nutrition and culinary skills are held every other week by Mazza and executive chef, Raheem Griffith, designed to empower students to plan menus, cook with set ingredients, explore new cuisines from around the world, and find new ways to eat, Mazza said.
What has the reaction been from students?
“I’ve had students literally stop me and say ‘this is so cool,’ and that is so gratifying,” Walker said. To see the kids cooking shoulder-to-shoulder and members of the basketball team preparing their pre-practice snacks has been so satisfying to her.
Mazza has also received a lot of positive feedback from the students and the kitchen has only been open since Oct. 4.
“Some of the great things I’ve heard are ‘I’m now able to make some things like my mom and dad make at home,’ which is great because we know that we have a lot of first-generation college students and some of these things we offer at Rutgers-Camden is new to them,” Mazza said.
It’s important to make these students feel at home, but it’s equally important to challenge them to make new dishes, he said. Cooking provides comfort and a creative outlet for many of these kids.
Students looking for recipes can scan QR codes in a virtual cookbook. They can also check out the Teaching Kitchen website for tips on creating do-it-yourself dishes. Mazza said there is also a printed cookbook for students who cannot access it on their phones or computers.
What are the future goals?
Walker said while it’s wonderful that this Teaching Kitchen is geared toward Rutgers-Camden students, she would love to see the kitchen be available to all Rutgers-Camden-aged kids in the community where they can also learn about nutrition.
Mazza agreed with allowing the Rutgers-Camden community to have access to the Teaching Kitchen. He also said he would like to see more diversification when it comes to ingredients.
What the kitchen has is fantastic, but he would love more plant-based options like tan and tabbouleh added to the ingredient list so students can experiment in that way. He would also like to see more fresh vegetables and fruits added so students have more smoothie options, or perhaps make a berry and red pepper coulis.
Mazza said what makes this Teaching Kitchen so successful are the Rutgers-Camden student cooks who are in it and the ingredients that are offered.
“I think continuing to develop that and spreading the word of the Teaching Kitchen is only going to make it a greater and more wholesome space,” Mazza said.
It’s great to have state-of-the-art equipment and learning space. But he said it’s only as great as the students who populate it, he said.
Both Walker and Mazza agree that seeing the students have so much fun creating dishes and finding a sense of home within this kitchen, is extremely satisfying.
Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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