Local chef teaches vegetarian cooking

By Cory A. Thompson – coryetc@gmail.com – Asst. Arts and Features Editor

Five minutes into the cooking class, blood flowed into the slaw.  The crimson mixed with the fleshy-purple interior of the vegetable and the laughter at the irony of a class called “Everyone Cooks.”

Donnie McGann, a foster kid turned culinary student, noticed the gash first. He laid down his project, baked apples stuffed with raisins and cherry butter, and gestured towards the scars on his own hands.

“Wounds of the kitchen,” he said. “If you don’t think about cutting your fingers then you won’t. You’ll get the hang of it.”

An Asheville food enthusiast named Michael Gentry, better known as the “sustainable gourmet,” hosts the event, which drew community members and culinary students to the UNC Asheville despite January’s bitter cold.

Gentry set up stations complete with ingredients and recipes for students to create dishes independently while he roamed and answered questions. As soon as Gentry walked away from the slaw station, disaster struck.

His advice helped. Two hours and one blue bandage later, with the help of Gentry and his small team of instructors, a class comprised of students and community members alike produced 18 vegetarian dishes, including a miraculously blood-free turnip, celery, apricot and ginger slaw.

McGann and Collin Morton, a fellow student, attended “Everyone Cooks” as a field trip through the Eliada School of Trade Arts, an Asheville culinary school. The program teaches cooking to young adults who aged out of the foster care program. Donna McCrain, their instructor, accompanied them.

According to McCrain, cooking provides a secure future for those in jeopardy of being left behind by the system.

“We give our students the opportunity to be outstanding citizens, get great jobs, do internships, go off, get married and keep passing the love,” McCrain said. “It’s a big circle of love, eventually.”

At the stove, community members of all ages worked alongside Eliada students.

Kathleen Cantwell, a recent transplant from Chicago, said she has been searching for a satisfying vegetarian cooking class.

“Michael is helpful without breathing down your neck,” Cantwell said. “It’s a good balance. I don’t need vast instruction on how to slice a tomato.”

In the case of one community member, exotic ingredients led to confusion about what exactly she was cooking.

“This recipe is called spicy pickled celery,” said Amy Kemp, a community member who took the class. “I’m not sure what makes it spicy.”

After the cooking was finished, Gentry led a discussion on nutrition and food availability.

“As we eat well today, we build tomorrows health,” Gentry said. “When you look down at your plate and see all the colors of the rainbow, then you know you’re getting all the nutrients you need for a strong body.”

For one student, the best type of food is the food on her plate.

“I’m an oppurtunivore,” Helen Sutherland, a participant, said. “I eat what I’m served.”

Classes are held in Sherrill Center Room 346 every Tuesday from 6-8:30 p.m. with a cost of $25 a session.

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