People in Your Neighborhood: La Jolla Girl Scout launches multicultural cooking classes for children

Because gathering around a table to break bread — or conchas or naan or a crumpet — is one of the more enjoyable ways to learn about a new culture, La Jolla High School senior Lauren Nitahara has launched a series of videos for her Girl Scout Gold Award project to teach children how to cook using recipes from around the world.

“I really love cooking and have always been fascinated with it,” said Lauren, 17. “But I noticed people had these intolerances to ethnic food. I would bring certain types of rice to school and people would say, ‘Ew, what is that?’ I thought this would be a cool way to teach young people about different foods and hopefully would trickle into acceptance of other worldly cultures.”

Each of the nine classes includes some information about a country, an art activity related to that country, a recipe and a cooking demonstration. The countries are Ethiopia, India, Japan, Mexico, China, Thailand, England, Greece and Morocco.

To make the cuisine from those cultures more approachable, Lauren found recipes that use common ingredients and spices that one might already have.

“Ethiopian food might sound really exotic, but most people already have a lot of the spices at home and are comfortable with Ethiopian staples like lentils,” she said. “I also wanted to find recipes that would be easy enough for kids to do, and I include tips and tricks to make knifework and stove usage safer.”

She also makes it known that knifework should be done by an adult.

The intent was to hold the classes in person through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego, but as most in-person meetings moved online amid the coronavirus pandemic, so did the cooking classes.

That has been hard, Lauren said.

“I have a new appreciation for what my teachers had to do to get distance learning going,” she said with a chuckle. “I didn’t recognize how much work they had to do until I got to do this project. …

“A lot of the recipes I had actually never tried, so it was an interesting learning experience for me. My family and I would go out to eat and I would say, ‘I could never make this,’ but I realized through this project, I actually could. It was eye-opening.”

Her favorite? Moroccan couscous salad.

“It’s really good and you can get a lot of produce in there,” she said.

Another part of the project that was important to her was including healthy recipes with fruits and vegetables.

“These recipes are an easy way to get your veggies,” she said. “I hope this project inspires more kids to cook and that younger generations find the same passion I did.”

Lauren has been taking classes with La Jolla chef Teri Newlee, which is how she learned some of her earliest multicultural recipes.

“I watch ‘Cake Boss’ and things like that, but I don’t get nearly as much out of it as I do with my classes with Miss Teri,” Lauren said. “She’s a huge influence on me.”

The feeling is mutual, Newlee said. “I’m always touched by the absolute joy on her face when she learns a new technique or dish. Food is the one commonality among all cultures, and I can’t think of a better way to bring people together than to share the joy of cooking. Lauren’s videos are fun, informative and very inspirational. Kids will love them!”

The videos are posted on Newlee’s website, (under “More” and “Online kids cooking”), in a Google classroom format.

To meet the qualifications for a Girl Scout Gold Award — the most prestigious honor that Girl Scout Seniors and Ambassadors can earn — the project must be sustainable; it will remain on the Eatsies website and be available to anyone. Lauren also must complete a report, which she hopes to do by early 2021.

Lauren, a Girl Scout since kindergarten, is a member of Troop 3095, composed of 14 girls, most of whom have been together since kindergarten at La Jolla Elementary School. “I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said.

People in Your Neighborhood shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send an email to [email protected]. ◆

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