Before I left my JCC job, I started pitching myself around town. My friend worked for Dr. Oz at Columbia Presbyterian (I met her through my "made up" job!). Before he hit it big, she recommended his organization Healthcorps as something I may be interested in. This was around 2006/2007.
Healthcorps is a non-profit organization that sends recent college grads to teach health education in at-risk high schools around the country. The Healthcorps trainees are called coordinators.
The reason you've never heard of it is because...well, I don't know why since it's AWESOME and thousands of kids have received health and nutrition education all over the country because of their program.
Every summer, the new batch of coordinators receives trainings from different experts.
I loved the idea of training them so that they could relay this important information to not just their students, but their families and high school staff. I'd never been in a train-the-trainer role before and felt ready for it.
I met the director, Rob, at a meeting and followed up with a proposal to teach his coordinators how to teach cooking classes in *any* room without special kitchen appliances. The organization was only a few years old and they were looking for fresh ideas. I was hired.
In the summer of 2008, I dragged groceries and basic cooking supplies uptown to the hospital where I'd teach a group of young twenty-somethings how to make hummus and greek salad (if I'm recalling correctly).
One of my bottles of olive oil leaked all over one of the bags which I was trying to clean up.
As I'm frantically prepping the food and standing at a sink, Rob and Dr. Oz suddenly walk up while my hands are wet. So much for looking professional.
"There is something that looks like urine along the floor back there," Dr. Oz says as his opening line.
My eyes bulge as I realize that the olive oil must have leaked along the floor as I was walking through the hallway.
"Uh, oh, that's um, olive oil, oh my gosh, I'm so sorry, I'll clean that up right away."
He just laughed and introductions were made.
Meanwhile, I'm dragging paper towels along the floor which cuts into my prep time.
People think chef work is so glamorous. It is not.
This is why I ALWAYS recommend that cooking teachers arrive with plenty of prep time. There is always a snafu!
I met my students who were amazing. They were excited to learn and I was thrilled to teach them.
I was hired on as the nutrition trainer and spent my summers immersed in their 6-week training. Some of my students are my dearest friends to this day.
One of my greatest coups was getting the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) to allow us to run a "how to teach cooking" course for the coordinators.
The space is phenomenal and really allowed the coordinators to experience a formal culinary training. Many have told me how that summer turned them into chefs!
That was the summer of '09 when I didn't have my own place in NYC so they allowed me to stay in the dorms in Harlem with the coordinators. It was surreal to be nearly 40 years old and living in a dormitory. But it was free and air-conditioned so I was good!
I also really enjoyed getting to know the neighborhood.
Our schedule was hectic, though, so most of my time and energy was spent working (nothing new here).
Meanwhile, Dr. Oz's career was blowing up. This was around the time that he got his own show. He was always friendly and kind to us staff member when he showed up. (Though, I was always itching to ask him why he didn't promote Healthcorps more!)
In the summer of 2010, I got a second job creating, running and teaching a new culinary program for the 92nd Street Y. The only way I was able to pull off working for Healthcorps AND the Y was because both of my work locations were on the Upper West Side near the apartment I was subletting on 108th and Central Park West. (How is this for serendipity, one of my roommates was a chef who I brought in to teach with me for the Y!)
I loved the work but juggling both jobs was incredibly challenging. I would teach my 3-hour cooking classes to the teenagers on Riverside Drive, bike over to West Side High school on Columbus, change into more professional clothes and teach my classes for Healthcorps.
AND this is the summer I was finishing up my cookbook! Michelle Obama had announced her Let's Move campaign and I was feeling more and more pressure to finish the book and birth it into the world.
There is no question in my mind that this is when the ovarian tumors began growing.
I had my first Ulcerative Colitis flare-up in THIRTEEN years that summer. I managed to squash it with Chinese herbs and cutting out dairy and wheat which had slowly crept back into my diet in previous years. The melanoma was diagnosed shortly after that.
I was surrounded by SUCH good food all of the time, it was hard to say no! Sometimes I'd be attending a culinary event where LITERALLY had the best pastry chefs in the WORLD giving out samples.
I'll pass on a stale pastry without a second glance. I'm picky about my pastry (like my men - ha! Name that movie!) but saying no to this food was never going to happen.
I ate some EXTRAORDINARY food by some of the best chefs in the country during this time in my life. No regrets about that - especially now.
I think I taught at Healthcorps two more summers and passed on teaching again for the 92nd Street Y. I felt good about the programs I created for both organizations but the physical work was a strain on my body.
Those summers working with my twenty-somethings are some of my best memories in New York City. They challenged me, laughed at me, and taught me so much. It's one of the reasons I love working with young people. They keep me sharp!
I was just messaging with one recently - she kindly provided some photos. I met her when she was only 22 years old. Eight years later, she is pregnant with her first child and sharing how she designed her kitchen to be a "chef's kitchen" and makes soup for people in her church when there is a crisis or new baby. When I met her, she'd never had hummus and didn't know how to cook!
It's hard for me to grasp what my cooking classes have done for people, how they've impacted their lives. Changed the trajectory of their food journey, expanded their palates.
Instead of remembering that, I've been so hard on myself. Thinking about the things I could have done differently.
Writing these posts has been cathartic for a lot of reasons. But one thing I didn't anticipate was how much of an ego-boost they would be! I'm remembering the achievements, instead of just the failures.
On the last night of the Healthcorps training, I took the coordinators to a farm-to-table restaurant - which was still a *new* thing in NYC at that time (I wonder if some New York chefs still think they invented the concept). My students had this fabulous meal of gourmet pizza and perfectly cooked vegetables made from the produce they'd picked earlier that day from a Brooklyn rooftop farm.
The way they described how that meal changed their relationship with food nearly made me cry.
For many years, my work involved expanding people's minds about food. Moving them further along the spectrum to embrace whole foods.
When I walked around NYC this past May and saw healthy snacks in the delis and farm-to-table menus outside the restaurants, I felt such pride.
I started my nutrition/food/culinary education and work in the early 90s - joining many others that were mostly on the west coast - and worked tirelessly along with others in my field to take on the all-powerful food industry.
They told us we'd never change the food system.
They said people would never care about what they ate.
They were wrong.
It's the same now. People think there is *nothing* we can do to change what's happening in our government.
What's that Margaret Mead quote? Of course a small group of people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
Never give up on your dreams. And here is a big shout out to my Healthcorps peeps. Love you guys!!
PHOTO #25. This post is part of a series celebrating my life before I lost four organs to three cancers in 2014. It is an “online memorial” honoring the person I was, in the hopes that I can make peace with the disabled person I’ve become. Every day for 30 days until my birthday, I will challenge myself to write a post inspired by the photo I’m sharing. I will not plan the topic or write ahead of time. I will merely look at the photo and write whatever it inspires. Thanks for reading! #julesfor30 #happyrebirth