Kids learn culinary skills in library program

By Tammy Keith Published July 16, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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Tammy Keith

Austin Yockey, adds spices to zucchini in the Cooking Matters! class at the Faulkner County Library in Conway. Also pictured to his right is University of Central Arkansas student Dayna Mounie, who volunteers with the Faulkner County Urban Farm Project at the library, and, from left, students Sydney Lunsford, 10, partially hidden, and 10-year-old twins Ally and Audrey Van Evera, all of Conway.

CONWAY — Nine girls and one boy sat quietly at tables, knives and cutting mats at the ready.

“Everybody here says they’ve used a knife to cut things, right?” asked Austin Yockey, who was leading Cooking Matters! — a free cooking class at the Faulkner County Library for kids ages 8 to 12.

Yockey gave them a lesson on knife skills anyway.

“This is the second most important thing. The first is to wash your hands. The second is how to use a knife properly,” he said. “Curl your fingers toward your palm … like a claw.”

The students all curled their fingers on one hand.

“What’s the reason to hold your hand like a claw — Ally?” he said, pointing to her.

“That way you don’t chop off your finger,” she said.


Ally Van Evera, 10, of Conway was taking the class with her twin sister, Audrey.

The six-week program is sponsored by the library, the Faulkner County Urban Farm Project and Arkansas GardenCorps and features hands-on meal preparation, as well as tips on basic nutrition, food safety and food budgeting. A $500 grant from Arkansas Cooking Matters helped fund the program, Yockey said.

Yockey is an Arkansas GardenCorps service member, and he oversees the Urban Farm Project, which includes a community garden north of the library.

The goal of the cooking class, held from 2-4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, is for kids to learn how to plan and prepare low-cost and nutritious meals for themselves and their families.

“It’s promoting nutrition education using affordable food and produce, as well as local fruits and veggies from the Faulkner County Library and their own garden, potentially,” Yockey said.

On the menu for the first class last week was Black Bean Vegetable Quesadillas.

The class is limited to 10 participants, and it is full.

Kallie Hudnall, 11, of Mayflower, said she took the class “because I really like cooking, and it’s just really fun. I thought it might be fun to come here and try it. I like to bake, and I like to grill things.”

Alex Ulmer, 10, of Conway, said she asked her mom, Teresa Ulmer, “to find a cooking class, and she found this.”

The sole male in the class, Henderson Ealy, 8, of Conway, said, “I want to learn to be a better cook.” He said he has a specialty already: “I cook bacon with my dad.”

Henderson’s class cooking partner was Javiana Geraldson, 12, of Conway.

“I’m hoping I can do this stuff for the fair,” Javiana said.

Yockey gave each table a zucchini, fresh from the Faulkner County Urban Farm Project garden, north of the library. The students took turns chopping it into small pieces, and they also chopped spinach and parsley.

He had a helper, Dayna Mounie, a nutrition major at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway who also volunteers with the garden.

“Does everybody know how to use a can opener?” Yockey asked.

All hands went up.

The students drained cans of organic corn and black beans.

Yockey introduced math questions during the class when it came time to measure ingredients. He handed Carolynthia Schaefer, 9, of Conway a bag of shredded cheese. It held

8 ounces, but the recipe called for 4 ounces. “How much of this do we need?” he asked.

“Half,” she quickly replied. She also helped grate a block of cheese.

In a few minutes, she confessed: “I’m eating the cheese.”

They students gathered around tabletop electric burners. Students sprayed cooking oil in the bottom of the two pans.

“Why are we spraying it?” Yockey asked.

“So it doesn’t stick!” the students said in unison.

“Everybody knows that one,” Yockey said.

They took turns reading the instructions for the recipe. Students stirred the ingredients and flattened the black beans with a fork.

“How spicy do you like them?” Yockey asked. Two students said “very spicy,” but the rest of the class wanted so he went for medium spicy.

By the end of class, the aroma of simmering ingredients filled the room. Students helped fill tortillas, which were then put in the pan to brown.

While they were waiting, Yockey asked students about the United States Department of Agriculture MyPlate food guidelines. Carolynthia correctly answered that vegetables fill the largest portion of the five food groups on the MyPlate guidelines.

“What do we not have?” Yockey asked. “The sugar,” Henderson said.

Yockey said it was fruit, so he said Henderson was pretty close.

“That’s burned,” a girl pointed out when Yockey flipped a quesadilla.

“Is that too burned?” Yockey said, peering down at it. “Some people like them like that.”

Time was running out, so two quesadillas were cut into enough pieces to share, which required more math.

Alex got the first piece. “It’s good,” she said.

What would she change? “I like it the way it is.”

Each student got a can of black beans to take home, too.

“We’ll probably do more cooking next time,” Yockey said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or

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