Taking the Classroom to the Kitchen

For three weeks this semester, a lucky group of College of Medicine students have traded in their scalpels and stethoscopes for spatulas and skillets. Food and Life: A Physician's Guide to a Nurturing Career, taught by Elisabeth Young, M.D. (’85), dean of the College of Medicine and vice president for health affairs, and Eugene Mowad, M.D., senior associate dean of academic affairs for the College of Medicine, supplies fourth-year College of Medicine students with not only basic food gathering and cooking skills, but an entirely different way to view the role of food in their lives and the lives of their future patients. Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, guides the students in their exploration.

“Our goal is to teach kitchen survival skills to prepare our students for when they are residents, living in an apartment and working crazy hours,” says Dr. Mowad, who also sees the course as a tool for stress reduction to prepare fourth-years for their upcoming residencies. “Food is about more than nutrition, it’s about the enjoyment of the eating experience and a way to socialize with others,” he says.

This year, more than 50 students tried to enroll in the popular three-week elective, whose size is limited so that everyone can fit into the home kitchens. The 14 who got in will learn from Drs. Young and Mowad that food is much more than just the sum of all its chemical parts.

Bistro style, grocery store ingredients

In the first week, the group travels to Dr. Young’s kitchen and learns about creating bistro-quality dining with easily accessible food items. Don’t worry, the class even covers recipes like apple tart for those with a sweet tooth.

Next is Dr. Mowad’s kitchen, where students escape traditional Western diets and instead look at the Mediterranean diet as a way of healthy eating. Both weeks emphasize kitchen hacks--shortcuts that make food preparation for nutritious and tasty meals possible even for busy residents.

For the third and final week, the students have their turn to shine. Drs. Young and Mowad assign the class a mystery ingredient that they are required to use as the centerpiece of their prepared dish.

“We always come up with ingredients that are affordable and accessible. Sometimes the ingredient is something as humble as a can of black beans or a sweet potato,” says Dr. Mowad, who is all about keeping it real in the kitchen. Students with hands-on kitchen skills will find themselves better prepared to counsel patients regarding a variety of nutritional topics.

The class ends with a potluck-style meal together, putting each student in the spotlight to teach about his or her creation and finally taking time to reflect on the past weeks and what is to come in their upcoming residencies.    

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