‘Kitchen of Life’ to Teach Students Resiliency Through MasterChef-Style Cooking Experience



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    ‘Kitchen of Life’ to Teach Students Resiliency Through MasterChef-Style Cooking Experience

    “Food is a medium that every person in this world has to be involved with it,” said Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann, executive director of the center. “It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter from what demographic you come from in society, you’ve got to eat food and food transcends all denominations, everything” • Full Story

    The Columbus Dispatch

    When area middle and high school students walk into the Kitchen of Life this fall, they may feel like they’ve walked onto the set of “MasterChef.”

    That’s because the culinary program, created and hosted by the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center in New Albany, will use cooking stations similar to those on the hit TV show to teach children about cooking and resiliency.

    “Food is a medium that every person in this world has to be involved with it,” said Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann, executive director of the center. “It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter from what demographic you come from in society, you’ve got to eat food and food transcends all denominations, everything.”

    For the students, specially-designed lessons in social emotional learning will be baked into the curriculum and the dishes they’re creating.

    Whitehall City Schools is among the first districts to sign on and plans to introduce the program to freshmen in the fall.

    Sharee Wells, district superintendent, said she is enthusiastic about programs that take students out of traditional classrooms and put them in an environment where they can see and learn differently.

    “For us, it ties into everything that we are trying to build,” she said. “It’s essential to our work.”

    Kaltmann and his wife, Esther, got the idea for Kitchen of Life several years ago after a visit to Australia, where the rabbi is from. In Sydney they toured a community kitchen called Our Big Kitchen. It has a different model than what will happen locally, but it inspired the Kaltmanns to use cooking for a purpose.

    “I saw there’s something with cooking, with baking. There’s a magic,” Areyah Kaltmann said. “We’re taking this magical cooking touch and just using it in a medium where we can implant resiliency skills, and we all need resiliency. There’s not one teenager who will walk through our doors who won’t benefit from our program.”

    Esther Kaltmann said the Australian program showed them how cooking could bring people together.

    “So we thought, ‘How we could apply such a concept here? What was the biggest need in Columbus?'” she said. “Ever since then we’ve been looking for a space.”

    The organization purchased the space at 2525 E. Main St. in Bexley — the former home of Bexley Premier Restaurant — in April. The Franklin County Auditor’s website reported the sale price as $2.6 million.

    When the program begins in the fall, it will include a social worker and chef working with several trained volunteers. It will be funded by the center and private donations, Areyah Kaltmann said.

    Kitchen of Life will offer students ages 12 to 18 a curriculum designed to teach them resiliency and social emotional learning skills through cooking. Students, in groups of 20 to 25, will come back to the kitchen four times a year for two hours at a time.

    The Kaltmanns said one reason they decided to focus on mental health and this age range is because of the increasing number of teens dying by suicide. From 2019 to 2020, the suicide rate among youths 19 and under in Franklin County increased from 4% to 9%, according to the Franklin County Coroner’s office.

    “We know there’s an issue,” said Shea Kaltmann, director of Kitchen of Life and the Kaltmanns’ son. “We know suicide is an issue, and we want to build resiliency.”

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on building resiliency for teens include increasing connectedness, something Kitchen of Life will do by giving teens opportunities to form bonds and relationships with one another, Shea Kaltmann said.

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