May 2021

Cultivate Food Enthusiasm

With Chef Andrea This Summer

By Suki Wessling

Despite her extensive work with adults, Chef Andrea speaks most enthusiastically about working with younger kids who are far from thinking about careers.

Photo By Leslie Von Flue

Chef Andrea Mollenauer doesn’t seem to do anything halfway. “I kind of have my fingers in every area of the food industry—and I love it!”

Andrea is a caterer, owner of the Food Lounge (a “community-minded food venue”), Cabrillo culinary instructor, high school Career Technical Education instructor, and summer camp leader extraordinaire.

missing or outdated ad config

And in case you’re wondering: No, she hasn’t slowed down during the pandemic.
When she learned that she was going to have to teach from her home, a second-floor Victorian flat, she dragged a stainless steel commercial kitchen table up the stairs and got to work. How do you teach cooking when you can’t be with your students? How do you engage high school students who are having to stare at a screen all day? How do you train chefs to work with the public from a distance?

Chef Andrea has the answers. Her first challenge was the high school students.
“One of my mottos is that I’m teaching them at least how to not starve themselves on ramen noodles when they go off to college!” Andrea jokes.

But CTE courses are about much more than the specific skills being taught. “They get to have their hands busy—everyone likes stimulation at that age, so [my job is] keeping their hands busy, make sure they’re learning skills. Not just technical skills like cooking or fixing a bike or learning medical technologies or digital design, but they’re also learning stuff like how to show up on time, how to improve your resume.”

Chef Andrea’s approach focuses on the particular interests of the students. Teens tend to be focused on looks, she explains, so her approach connects with that.
“Once they learn a bit more about where their food comes from, what kind of nutrients are in food, how it fuels their body, they learn how drinking water helps with skin hydration and eating healthy foods helps with their acne or their hair, there’s this lightbulb that goes off.”

Andrea is a proponent of CTE courses not only for the direct skills that they teach, but also for the way that students learn how to learn.

“It’s not the test that we make them cram for and they get an A on that’s going to teach them things, it’s the learning process and the explanation and exploration that are really going to stick with them,” she explains.

At Cabrillo, she was faced with a dilemma. The program was designed around giving students real-world experience by sixteen weeks of catering 100-200 person events. During a pandemic, that clearly was not going to happen.

Andrea says that the staff realized that they had an opportunity to make the program even more like the real world.

“We’re thinking about: ‘How do you reinvent yourself as a businessperson?’ ‘You want to be a bakery chef? You want to be a caterer? What happens during the slow season?’ ‘How do you reinvent yourself when the trends change?’ We’re having to reinvent the program so that it’s better for the students, a more well-rounded program.”

And yes, summer camp is ON!

Despite her extensive work with adults, Chef Andrea speaks most enthusiastically about working with younger kids who are far from thinking about careers.
She says that summer cooking camp is about food enthusiasm.

“I can get young people to eat things they never thought they’d like!” she says. “Their parents are amazed when all of a sudden they’re eating zucchini. You put it in something delicious like a ratatouille, and you talk about the movie, and you make it fun, and suddenly they want to eat zucchini.”

Unlike the adults, she focuses less on skills and more on exploration.
“They’re not going to leave with excellent knife skills at seven or ten years old, they’re not going to know how to read a recipe properly, but if they’re excited about food they will continue to explore that.”

Finally, Chef Andrea reminds us, a lifetime of healthy enjoyment of food starts at home.

“At the very least, let your kids in the kitchen. Let them touch, taste, smell, play, make mistakes. The kitchen is a magical place!”

For more information:
Learn more about Cabrillo’s Culinary Arts Program at www.cabrillo.edu/culinary-arts-hospitality-management
Learn more about Cabrillo Summer Youth Program at www.cabrillo.edu/extension/classes/youth

Learn more about The Food Lounge at www.scfoodlounge.com

Suki Wessling is a local writer and the mom of two young adults. Suki is teaching an online summer camp for LGBTQ+ teens and allies at Athena’s Advanced Academy. Read more at www.SukiWessling.com.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *