nourishing westchester

Class participants stroll in a few minutes before the hour – extending hellos and introductions. They settle on to stools tucked around the over-sized kitchen island: chopping boards, sauté pans and knives laid out as the tools of the day. Before long, the instructor starts to talk about bone health. Terms like bone mass, essential nutrients and osteoporosis trigger raised hands and comments from the class, as ingredients are passed around and inspected.

Clearly, this is no ordinary classroom. It is the Cooking to Support Bone Health cooking (and eating!) class at The Chef Peter X. Kelly Teaching Kitchen, in The Dempsey House at New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital in Cortlandt Manor – just one of a variety of cooking classes open to the community throughout the year.

The woman leading the class is Emilie Berner, Chef and Coordinator, who joined the Teaching Kitchen in June 2016. Armed with a Master’s from New York University in Foods, Nutrition and Wellness, along with a variety of culinary arts training and experience, she is on a mission to “empower people to make small changes in their lives that will improve their health and well-being in a big way.” As Emilie speaks passionately about her commitment to cooking and eating natural, healthy foods, she clearly energizes her students to do the same, as they ask where she’s purchased the day’s ingredients and what nutrients they provide.

Of those in attendance, eight are return participants. Janice Livingston has attended “as least five or six classes to learn techniques and information about food.” Plus, “It’s a bargain, and Emilie is awesome.”

In addition to the 90-minute, $15 classes offered at the Kitchen, there are a number of other initiatives managed by Berner. Healthy Heart guides 12 individuals, selected by their physicians – based on cholesterol, blood pressure or heart issues – through 10 classes, helping them learn to flavor foods without salt, identify healthy fats, and learn more about cooking and eating to support your body.

There’s also the Physician in the Kitchen free lecture series – which brings healers into the Kitchen, and Soups and Sides, which supports the Hospital’s patients with harvested vegetables direct from the on-site Organic Healing Garden; ingredients couldn’t be fresher, and Berner uses them to cook soups (like Carrot Orange Fennel) that are then distributed to infusion patients.

On this day at The Kitchen, all the students are focused on the task at hand: learning to work with ingredients that will nourish their bones. Emilie instructs the group to break up into three teams to prepare each of her three recipes to support bone health: Wakame Cucumber Salad with Oranges; Chickpea Salad; and Sardines With Couscous. The resulting meal is rich in calcium, protein, vitamins C, D and K, and magnesium. Ingredients include sea vegetables (kelp and wakame), seeds, whole grains, fish and healthy oils.

A low hum takes over the room as each team gets busy on their recipe. Emilie interrupts their progress on two occasions, ringing bells to grab everyone’s attention, so she can demonstrate how to dice an onion with professional skill and to “supreme” an orange (remove the membrane).

Throughout the class, Emilie encourages her students to cook and eat with variety: including more plants and quality protein. She asks the group to bring some mindfulness to their food shopping and meal planning, all the while understanding, “We’re always being pulled in so many directions, and it’s hard to make informed decisions when it comes to nutrition.”

Emilie continues to check in on each group, monitoring their progress and answering questions. Brenda Preisner of Cortlandt Manor is taking the class because she’s a vegetarian and is looking for more diversity in what she cooks and eats.

The recipes are readied and placed for serving. Attendees fill their bowls and sit for a well-deserved lunch. A temporary hush falls over the room as the only activity now is eating. Each dish gets a thumbs up and the bowls are eaten clean.

Emilie looks at the program as an opportunity to learn at any age, as well as being a great way to nourish the community and get them to experience new foods and recipes without too much of a financial outlay. They can “expand their culinary repertoire,” and take what they’ve learned home to do it themselves, all while furthering participants’ nutritional spectrum and flavor experiences.

To register for a class or to receive more information about The Chef Peter X. Kelly Teaching Kitchen at New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital, email or call 914.734.3780. (The hospital’s garden relies on volunteers for nurturing; interested parties should contact Berner at the above email address.)

For Bone Health recipes from the Teaching Kitchen, go to:

Chickpea Salad

Wakame Cucumber Salad

Sardines (or Salmon) with Couscous

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