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Friday, March 01, 2024

New cooking program teaches culinary basics to East Gainesville youth

Gainesville’s Parks and Recreation & Cultural Affairs has started a new culinary arts program in the Eastside Community Center

Luis McLeod (middle), recreation aide, helps Cayson Dumas (left), 7, and Jacari Holoie (right), 8, grill pepperoni pizzas at the Eastside Community Center on Monday, Jan. 31.
Luis McLeod (middle), recreation aide, helps Cayson Dumas (left), 7, and Jacari Holoie (right), 8, grill pepperoni pizzas at the Eastside Community Center on Monday, Jan. 31.

Nine pairs of tiny hands grabbed spatulas and flipped over their freshly made creations: grilled cheese and pizza rolls. 

These enthusiastic young chefs participated in Gainesville Parks and Recreation & Cultural Affairs’ new Grillers’ program, which teaches basic cooking skills to youth. The program cost $35 for Gainesville residents and $52.50 for non-residents.

The program kicked off on Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Eastside Community Center, which lies on University Avenue next to Fred Cone Park.

The children, between 6 and 9 years old, clutched mini grillers to learn timed flipping, assembling and other culinary basics.

PRCA started this program because there weren’t any youth culinary arts programs in the Eastside area, PRCA recreation leader Chanton Williams said. 

“We’re just trying to find something that’s for the kids where at least they’ll have fun doing it and incorporate different motor skills,” Williams said.

Parents and guardians were eager to sign up, and spots for this program filled very quickly, Williams said. More youth programs are in the works, he added.

The program will have four sessions every Monday from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The grillers will start off with some basics and move on to more challenging recipes after each session. Next week they will be learning how to make french toast and kebabs.

Williams is the cooking instructor for the course. He started off by pairing the students at tables with portable grills. Williams helped them wash their hands and distributed ingredients for grilled cheese sandwiches and pizza rolls with the help of recreation aides.

Williams gave the children step-by-step guidance as parents and guardians supported from the side. The grillers rolled up their pizza rolls with tortillas and filled them with cheese and pepperoni to their liking.

They then placed masterpieces on the hot grill to wait for them to cook through. While waiting for the food to finish, they all started counting the seconds in unison.

“1, 2, 3, 4…” they shouted, as they watched the cheese melt inside their sandwiches and pizza rolls.

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Williams came up with the cooking program and decided which recipes to make based on what he made as a child at that age. He also teaches the Junior Grillers’ Program on Thursdays with children aged 10 to 12.


“I love it,” Williams said. “I love just seeing them be happy and taking on the challenge and being excited.” 

Six-year-old Blake Blum was very happy with his pepperoni-and-cheese pizza roll. He wanted to learn more about cooking by attending this program.

“I don’t cook at home, but I like putting decorations on cookies,” Blake said.

Blake is excited to come back for the next few weeks to learn more new things on the grill.

“I can’t really do it at my house because I don’t have the mini stove,” Blake said.

Blake’s grandmother, whom he affectionately calls his Mimi, signed him up for the program. Jenice Bushnell, a 58-year-old realtor from High Springs, wanted her grandson to use this program to expand his palate and learn some new skills.

“I hope that he’ll want to cook more,” Bushnell said. “Broaden his horizon to cook other things and build the confidence to know that anything he wants, he can cook.”

Some people, like Lunese Boco, a 36-year-old assistant dialysis business manager at UF Health Shands Hospital from Gainesville, heard about this program from her friend. She signed up her 6-year-old daughter, Brooklynne Lane, to foster her love of cooking.

“I always try to find things that the city offers to allow the kids to be more independent,” Boco said. “Now she has the opportunity to do something without my help.”

Brooklynne felt the program was fabulous. She often helps her mother cook and is excited to come back next week.

Boco is looking forward to getting her kids involved in the different activities the city will create.

“The city is getting better with offering more diverse programs,” Boco said. “I’m happy about that.”

Contact Erina at Follow her on Twitter @ErinaAnwar_ .

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Erina Anwar

Erina is a second-year journalism student and reports on East Gainesville for The Alligator. Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Erina grew up in Fort Lauderdale and is excited to discover new stories in Gainesville. When she’s not writing, she enjoys exploring local restaurants and watching Korean dramas.

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