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Cooking Class

Jane Park/MEDILL

Aspiring chefs in Kendall College's Nutrition for Culinary Professionals course learn to spice up their cooking with healthy food choices.

Carbs nourish future chefs with culinary inspiration

by Jane Park
Jan 27, 2009


Jane Park/MEDILL

Carlena Rice, left, a culinary student at Kendall College, talks with registered dietitian and adjunct lecturer Christina Fitzgerald after a class that aims to train nutrition-conscious chefs.

Carlena Rice, a South Side special education teacher, is rethinking her eating habits and working toward a more balanced diet.

“I started doing the food pyramid and tracking everything I eat,” said Rice, 28.

For her, that also means considering everything she plans to cook – for hundreds of people.

Rice is a part-time culinary student at Kendall College in Chicago, preparing for a future career as a chef. A course in nutrition is required learning this quarter.

“Since I started this class, I started trying to eat more healthy, realizing that I don’t eat healthy at all, and my family doesn’t eat healthy,” she said. While she tries to keep her son on a balanced diet, Rice said he has an insatiable appetite for foods such as bread to the exclusion of other foods.

“A lot of this will probably help me to make better choices for me and my family,” added Rice, who has already begun to apply the lessons to control her lactose intolerance.

All the culinary and pastry students at Kendall College take Nutrition for Culinary Professionals. Taught by registered dietitian and adjunct lecturer Christina Fitzgerald, the class teaches good nutrition as a cornerstone of culinary education.

The course covers the basics of proteins, carbs, fats, vitamins and minerals so aspiring chefs can flavor all their exotic recipes with healthy foundations.

Rice plans to be a personal chef in the classic sense of someone who cooks for people in their homes. She said she hopes the class will help her serve future clients who want to follow fad diets in a healthy, educated manner.

“Everything is such a trend. Having this class, I’ll learn how to adapt to those types of things,” she said.

A recent class session on carbohydrates was an enlightening, interactive session that debunked students’ long-held views that they’re “bad for you.”

“I know carbs have gotten a really bad reputation in the past through the Atkins diet, so just keep an open mind about carbohydrates,” Fitzgerald reminded her chefs in training. “An apple and a slice of bread have the exact same amount of carbohydrates,” or about 15 grams.

Joseph Giannini, a 38-year-old culinary and baking student, admitted he had never categorized bread, sugar and fruit together.

Carbohydrates – composed of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen – are the body’s main energy source and are only found in plant foods, which include fruits, vegetables and grains. They also help the body use its proteins and fats efficiently.

Carbohydrates turn into glucose, a simple sugar, in the bloodstream. But when the body exhausts its glucose supply, it turns to the muscles as an alternative energy source.

This can be dangerous for people, especially anorexic patients, who routinely do not eat enough carbohydrates.

“They burn through their fat stores. They’re turning to their muscles" for energy, Fitzgerald said. "Their heart’s a muscle.”

“They’re actually burning their own heart to use as an energy source,” she added, which can lead to fatal malnourishment.

Among the more scientific topics of discussion of how simple and complex sugars are metabolized, Fitzgerald covered the importance of portion control and reading labels.

One-third cup of cooked pasta is one serving of carbohydrates, she reminded students.

“It might say three grams of sugar, but if there’s 25 grams of carbohydrates, your body’s gonna take it as sugar, period. That’s important, that’s something I didn’t know,” Rice said as she packed her bags at the end of class.

Giannini said, once he graduates from the college, the lessons learned about nutrition will help him find his niche feeding people “good, home comfort food."

"Feeding people healthy and properly is very important for me, because I’ve been overweight my whole life,” he said. 

Nutrition isn’t always top priority in cooking.

“Yesterday I was rendering bacon fat in butter. It’s death in a pot,” he said with a smile.