NC State's teaching kitchen aims to build a sense of community, through food

North Carolina State University’s teaching kitchen opened during COVID. Now it’s an active campus presence that spreads knowledge about nutrition and wellness.
students in NC State's teaching kitchen
The teaching kitchen has been busy lately, holding events nearly every day. | Photos courtesy of NC State Dining.

The teaching kitchen at North Carolina State University (NC State) in Raleigh seeks to incorporate food into the campus community. And the concept has evolved since it first opened. The space, located in the gym at NC State, came to be through a partnership between wellness and recreation and dining services. The thought was to originally use the space primarily for recipe testing and nutrition education classes, but as time went on, the concept evolved as more campus partners and departments wanted to make use of the area.

“Now we've been able to meet a lot of different people on campus and partner in totally different ways than we were before, which is great. We've done things with the Office of Global Engagement. We've done a lot of things with different language departments, and really just incorporated food into the campus community,” said Lauren Smith, director of nutrition and wellness at NC State.

The space opened in 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought forth several challenges for the team. During the pandemic, the teaching kitchen focused primarily on virtual events. But now, in a post-pandemic environment, the teaching kitchen has worked on ramping up its programming.

“The overarching goal is definitely to bring food into the community, help build the community within NC State and NC State dining,” said Smith, who also oversees the teaching kitchen.  “The goal is also to kind of teach people how to cook and how to prepare healthy meals and learn more about food.”

Here’s a look at how the team is working to accomplish those outcomes.  

Mindful eating

The team has been busy as of late, with events nearly every single day. Many of the events even reach capacity. One such event, was a program focused on mindful eating.

“Myself and one of my other teaching kitchen employees had prepared a whole session about mindfulness and how to kind of eat with all of your senses and enjoy your food,” said Smith, who said that the team came up with different recipes to meet different tastes.

They prepared lemon bars to talk about sour tastes, and went through salty, sweet, umami with an array of other treats.

“And basically, [we] taught the students how to enjoy their food and how to slow down and really taste everything,” said Smith.

The event was well received by diners who enjoyed the treats and the focus on mindfulness, noted Smith.

Global engagement initiatives

Another partnership that has sparked interesting programing is the teaching kitchen’s collaboration with the Office of Global Engagement.

The Office of Global Engagement has a program called the Global Training Initiative (GTI). The initiative involves a variety of global engagement opportunities for exchange students, but the teaching kitchen helps out with cooking classes.  

As a part of that program, Chef Erica Glascow from NC State has held cooking classes focusing on Southern cuisine.

“She’ll make a traditional Southern meal and just talk about the history behind it and why it's important and why they make it certain ways,” said Smith, “She always incorporates a hands-on piece. So, she’ll invite students to come up and learn how to properly cut collard greens, how to peel potatoes, and just help with whatever it is that she's making.”

Another initiative currently in the works is a “culinary world cup” competition. Students from across the globe have teamed up with Global Engagement to make a variety of dishes. The winner’s dish will be menued in the dining hall.

NC State's Teaching Kitchen Events at the teaching kitchen feature a mix of education and cooking instruction. 

Culinary medicine

The teaching kitchen has also teamed up with the physiology department on campus to offer a class called Culinary Medicine. The idea behind the class was to integrate medical students into nutrition education classes.

“Many of them don't learn about nutrition, and if they do, they don't learn about it from a practical way. A lot of times, doctors might tell you to eat healthy, but they don't actually know a great way to prepare veggies so [a physiology professor] had this idea of trying to do a culinary medicine class,” said Smith.

The format of the class involved a guest speaker presenting on a topic for a portion and then they would spend the rest of the time cooking. One week, the students learned how to prepare desserts with NC State Dining’s executive pastry chef.

“So that was just awesome to see. You know, it was a bunch of medical students who didn't have any prior cooking knowledge and now they’re comfortable in the kitchen and are excited to talk about nutrition to their clients and the patients,” said Smith.

Overcoming challenges

Employee preparing food Supply chain troubles were a challenge for the team. 

The team has had some time to work out kinks and issues along the way, procurement was one of those challenges.

Smith noted that there was a period of time when all equipment was on delays. She ordered one piece of equipment in September, but it didn’t come in until January.

“It took months for everything to come in. That was a big, a big struggle. And then, of course just the fear of having people in that space during the pandemic when no one wanted to take your mask off, but you can't really eat without taking your mask off,” said Smith.

The team had shifted to livestream events which allowed them to hold a few lunch-and-learns through video.

When it comes to addressing supply chain issues, the solution was often found in creativity. She also leaned on other dining directors to supply missing equipment.

“I was able to really heavily lean on my coworkers and colleagues to just figure out what needed to happen in order to get it up and running,” she said.

Moving forward, Smith hopes to continue partnering with other campus groups and even off campus partners such as alumni groups.

“I’m just excited for all of the opportunity in that space because just in a couple of years, we've done so much. I think in the future, continuing to partner with as many groups as we can and external groups if they're going to come in. Those are definitely my goals,” said Smith.



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