Earlene Cruz is a true francophile with a penchant for connecting people from all corners of the world. A voyage on a ship inspired her social venture, Kitchen Connection, which is a hub for people of all cultures to come together and learn or teach live, online and interactive cooking classes, with some of all of the proceeds contributing to Action Against Hunger and Whole Food’s Whole Planet Foundation. This venture led her to pursue Master’s Degree at New York University, focusing on food studies and social entrepreneurship. Her work has recently earned her a James Beard Award and a nomination as an envoy on youth under the United Nation’s Secretary General.
Here’s more about Kitchen Connection, including its birth story between New York City and Paris.
Why French? My elementary school offered weekly French classes, which quite frankly, I was not very interested in at the time. I decided to continue to pursue French in high school, as an easy way to fulfill my requirement and ended up falling in love with the language and the culture. I credit this greatly to my high school teacher, Madame Scholz, whose method of teaching really resonated with me, motivating me to host an exchange student from Marseille, travel there, study there, and eventually double major in college. This led me to have an internship at the French Embassy, which really transformed my way of thinking about bringing intercultural projects to life.
How did you think of the idea for Kitchen Connection? I was in Ghana, which was one of our port stops on the study abroad program I was doing, Semester at Sea. Before my arrival there, I had lost my wallet and decided to Couchsurf for the first with a family in Accra. With them, I spent an incredible five days, not so much as a tourist, but as part of their family — doing chores, running errands, and sampling their incredible food. During one of my last meals with them, I thought: “I may never be back here again. I may never see them again. I may never eat this again. I don’t even know what ingredients are in this.” And then the thought: “Well, I can purchase the ingredients I need to make this beforehand, and we can cook together and catch up through Skype.” Fast-forward four years later, and we have a working platform, independent from Skype that actually facilitates these interactions with people all over the world.
Why did you decide to launch the first trial cooking class between New York City and Paris? Well, my attachment to both cities certainly motivated this. I was connected to a French chef here in New York, Claude Godard, the vice president of the US branch of Maîtres Cuisiniers de France, who has been a strong supporter of the project from the beginning. I called my friends in Paris, who graciously volunteered their time at 3 in the morning that evening.
How many people can join a cooking class? Up to five people can be in the room, including the host of the cooking class. The host can then choose to broadcast that class to an indefinite number of people.
Is teaching a class only limited to trained chefs? No, we have anyone from homecooks to food bloggers, stay at home moms, and yes, professionally trained chefs.
Students from Lucas Do Rio Verde in Brazil Participating in a Kitchen Connection
How do you see Kitchen Connection promoting bilingual education goals? Well, I think that food and cooking are languages on their own. It was Claude Lévi-Strauss who basically said that their is no society without language and similarly, there is no society that does not cook. Both human elements have the power to transcend cultural barriers and connect people on a level that most things can’t.
I remember a story from one of our supporters at World Chefs, who detailed how leaders of North and South Korea were able to come together for a meal at one of their culinary congresses. The same is true for the Jerusalem-based organization, Taste of Peace, which brought Israeli and Palestinian chefs to work as one umbrella organization in their cooking competitions.
To that end, I see acceptance and unity at the crux of promoting bilingual education, which is what we try to achieve through our cooking classes. On our platform, users can choose what cuisines they would like to learn how to cook, as well as what language they want the class to be taught in. In March, we had a Brazilian teacher approach us asking us if we could offer his Engli... We motivated the local government to sponsor the WIFI in their school’s kitchen and had our Nigerian chef successfully teach the students how to make an Asaro Potage.
We hope to continue hosting our cooking demos at our partner locations like Whole Foods and New York University, as well as in schools like the School for International Studies in Brooklyn, which offers both a culinary program as well as a dual language program. The idea is to expose these educational environments to other cultures, cuisines and languages through our cooking classes.
What are your company goals for 2017? The objective is to continue featuring one country every month, this time increasingly involving the country’s tourism board and public/private food companies, exporters. Guadeloupe was featured this past June, with much of the support from the Guadeloupean Tourism Board, a model that we hope to replicate in 2017.
We hope to expand our cooking demos in more Whole Foods stores, integrating a more educational component around sustainability, food waste, and food insecurity, in line with our support of the UN’s Zero Hunger Challenge. Additionally, we hope to host more events at New York University, as well as in other universities, high schools, and elementary schools.
Join their Madeleine Class on Sunday, November 13th, 2016 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for details!
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About Kitchen Connection:
Kitchen Connection is an online foodie social network where chefs and lay food lovers can teach online and interactive cooking classes. The hosts of the classes (connections) can be paid, or choose to donate some or all of the funds from the class to their partner charity, Action Against Hunger and most recently, Whole Food's Whole Planet Foundation.
Kitchen Connection is focusing on one country each month. In 2017, France will be featured in March, in honor of the month of La Francophonie.