Michael Bennett Tackles Healthy Eating

By Mimosa Collins, Community Kitchens NW Program Manager

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It was just a normal Tuesday afternoon in November, and it was time for Rainier Beach High School’s cooking club to gather. Every week this group of teens comes together to learn, cook and eat together. But this week, a special guest was due to join: Seahawks Defensive End Michael Bennett!

Michael and his wife Pele reached out to Tilth through their foundation, The Bennett Foundation, about connecting with youth and cooking. They already support nutrition efforts in their home state of Hawaii and wanted to extend that support to Seattle. It was a natural fit to have them join in on the fun at Rainier Beach High School. Michael also brought along with him his personal chef, Steven Lee, who transformed Michael’s athletic performance by switching him to a 50% plant-based diet.

It was decided: this week’s dish would be chicken teriyaki. There were 13 students in attendance, all wide-eyed and excited to see Michael Bennett. One of the philosophies of the club is to “meet students where they’re at,” meaning be mindful about selecting dishes that the students can relate to, then slowly adding in vegetables and other new ingredients to their palates. Earlier in the day, veggies were harvested and washed from Rainier Beach High School’s own school garden.

Michael introduced the lesson of the day to the students. One student named Oscar caught his eye, standing in the back, quietly listening. Oscar was invited to the front of the room to flavor the chicken. Silently but assuredly, Oscar chose a few that he liked. Steven, knowing it would eventually go with a teriyaki, was surprised at the selection and willing to move with the creative selection.

Next, the club broke out into separate groups to prepare the dish. There were not recipes and instead, students were encouraged to taste as they went (watching out for double-dipping). Questions were hollered: “Is this done?” “How does this taste?” “Is it time to eat yet?” Michael slung veggies around the room, roamed each worked station to smell the good food and spread good cheer as the kitchen’s DJ.

Now the time to eat. True to the tradition of cooking club, all the students and guests said one thing they were grateful for before eating the meal. Family, friends, food and teamwork all took top billing. One student exclaimed, “This chicken is fire!” (that’s teenager for “awesome”). Another said she was “hangry” (combination of hungry and angry) before, but not anymore! Something they are reminded of each time they attend: taste everything once and don’t yuck anyone’s yum.

The club ends with tasty food in their bellies and stars in their eyes. Michael and Steven were equally amazed at the work created. Now, weeks after that special lesson, many of these students insist they are stronger cooks, stepping into a kitchen with confidence in their ability to turn raw, healthy ingredients into tasty food.

The Michael and Pele Bennett Foundation Rainier Beach High School Cooking Club is a program run by Tilth’s Community Kitchens NW program. The club plans to resume in February with more amazing recipes and a community of like-minded students.  Want to know more? Email mimosacollins@seattletilth.org.

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