The Guilford County Health Department wants a new chef to go with the chef it already has.
No, the department’s employees aren’t getting gourmet meals of pheasant under glass prepared by the department’s own private chef. Instead, it’s all part of a program to promote healthy eating in Guilford County – a program that’s been so successful that, this week, Guilford County Health Director Merle Green said the Health Department is planning to expand it. Green said she’s optimistic the highly popular Mobile Kitchen program can be expanded with grant money rather than departmental funds.
Early last year, the Health Department partnered with the American Heart Association to sponsor the Mobile Kitchen project that sends a chef to churches, schools, public events and other venues to show how to cook food in a healthy manner. The program was really meant for areas of town where there’s no easy access to stores with fresh healthy foods – food deserts as they’re known – but it’s become so popular that now many groups are requesting a visit by the chef.
“We sponsored this because many residents – especially those who live in food deserts – have expressed their desire for more options for learning where to access, and how to prepare, healthier foods.” Green said.
The Heart Association hired a chef, N’gai Dickerson, a local favorite who’s worked in several area restaurants. He conducts healthier cooking demonstrations using the Mobile Kitchen. That’s something that’s just like it sounds: The county has purchased a mobile kitchen that includes portable burners that can be used to put on a cooking demonstration anywhere.
Most of his work is focused on underserved neighborhoods, but Green said the program has become so popular that all types of neighborhoods and civic groups have requested healthy cooking demonstrations.
Green said that, when people see a chef come in and cook foods that they aren’t used to cooking – and does so in a healthy and delicious manner, they become familiar with that food and cooking method, and they’re more likely to start cooking healthier meals at home.
“The public loves his demonstrations and even the aroma,” Green said. “It doesn’t smell like salt or grease – instead, it’s the aroma of fresh foods.”
Green said one woman told her, “I didn’t know you could cook cabbage unless you put fatback in it.”
Green added that people really love sampling the food.
“It’s a big part of the draw,” she said.
According to Green, the Health Department is now in talks with the Heart Association to get the additional funding to hire the second chef.