Food What?! is an organization that aspires to inspire, and its goal is to nurture its youth participants' relationships with land, food and each other. The way the Santa Cruz nonprofit does this is what makes the group special, along with being a wonderful mission-aligned fit in the 1440 Multiversity Live Well and Love Well learning pillars.
1440 Multiversity Executive Chef Kenny Woods was introduced to FoodWhat in 2018 through produce deliveries that 1440 receives from Santa Cruz Farmers Market, and he connected with FoodWhat founder and director Doron Comerchero. Shortly after, Chef Kenny began volunteering his time at the FoodWhat site on the University of California, Santa Cruz campus – located just 10 miles from 1440 Multiversity – which is complete with an outdoor cooking space, edible gardens, meal tables, greenhouses and even a chicken coop. From there he was hooked.
"It opened a new passion for me," Chef Kenny says. "I look back at my timeline and what food means to me, and then I get to share that passion."
At the end of July, Chef Kenny and members of the 1440 team visited the FoodWhat campus in what has become an annual tradition. Teens were able to cook a meal together with Chef Kenny as he shared his knowledge on food and recipes; what he's learned through personal experience; and what he's gained from cooking with others. One participant said he was hesitant to join the program at first but has now been a part of FoodWhat for two years.
"The first time I didn't sign up for it, but then I thought, ‘Oh well it sounds cool, maybe I'll give it a try,' and I really liked it," the teen said. "So I kept doing it."
Some participants had hesitations jumping into the day's cooking projects, but by the end they were all engaged in activity. Six teens prepared a meal alongside Chef Kenny, which included fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs from the FoodWhat campus garden. Others cleaned dishes and chatted amongst each other, or tended to the garden, but one thing they all did in unison was connect and enjoy each other's company.
Participants learn in a hands-on way at FoodWhat, have the opportunity to see how the ingredients come together to make a dish and how each dish collectively creates the family meal. Once the meal is ready, each of the youth who helped with the meal stands before their peers and introduces what they made and how they made it, as they did on this visit.
Chef Kenny is known for combining ingredients that may seem uncommon but are critical for the "food as medicine" nutrition philosophy of 1440, and the teens were able to taste the difference in an eye-opening way. Most of them were surprised at how unique and delicious everything was, as they were skeptical of the new techniques at first. By the end of the 1440 meal, after most went back for seconds or even thirds, there was no food left over.
Following the 1440 visit to FoodWhat, Chef Kenny heard from one participant who told him he cooked a meal for his family using what he learned from the day, showing just how powerful the knowledge and inspiration of food can be in bringing people together. Another participant shared, "I just feel like everyone is so family oriented; it's a close-knit community. It's made me think more about agriculture and nature, and just made me be more open-minded about cooking." Others relayed to Chef Kenny how they are now inspired to pursue a culinary career someday, or cook more often for their friends and loved ones.
FoodWhat strives to bring the local community closer in a fun and engaging way, and it's clear that this program feeds its youth in more ways than one. That's the beauty in trying something new – you just might enjoy it.
To learn more about Food What, please visit FoodWhat.org.