If you didn't already know, the Free Library's Culinary Literacy Center offers free and low cost cooking classes that bring together the intersection of literacy, food, and nutrition. CLC programs take place at Parkway Central and neighborhood libraries, and there's something for everyone – including knife skills, nutrition workshops, chef demonstrations, and healthy cooking on a budget.  Classes are a great way to get out of cooking rut or introduce your family to new dishes.

We checked in with Liz Fitzgerald, Administrator of Culinary Literacy Center, to learn more about CLC's classes for kids and families.

How did the idea for the Culinary Literacy Center come about? What makes it different from your usual cooking class?

The idea for the Culinary Literacy Center, the first space of its kind in a library in the country, came from the Free Library of Philadelphia's President and Director, Siobhan Reardon. The ongoing renovations to the Parkway Central Library provided an opportunity to renovate the physical space, and it was Siobhan's idea to create a space to advance literacy through food and cooking around a communal table.

We're not simply a cooking school — we're a department in a library, a small part of its vast offerings. All of our programs are centered on culinary literacy, which we define as both learning about cooking and learning through cooking.

What has stayed the same and changed since the program began in June 2014?

Opening the Culinary Literacy Center felt a lot like opening a restaurant, which is new for us as librarians! In the past four years we've gained a lot of experience operating and maintaining a commercial kitchen—from how to run a giant dishwasher and clean an ice machine to passing inspections from the Department of Health.

We've also brought the program out of Parkway Central and into the neighborhood libraries. We have culinary-literacy programs happening all over the city, in which chefs and food educators are cooking in meeting rooms or on the main floor of libraries. We bring programs out of the kitchen and into the library one of two ways: with a Kitchen in a Box, which is just what it sounds like, a giant bin filled with everything you need to cook; and with a Culinary Literacy Cart, which has an array of kitchen tools and appliances like a small convection oven, blender, induction burner, and even a sink! We have two carts—at the South Philadelphia and Blackwell Regional libraries — with a third coming soon to Lillian Marrero Library.

What hasn't changed is our commitment to this work, our appreciation for the amazing organizations we partner with, and the joy that happens when people come together to cook with one another.

What kind of impact have you seen from the Center's classes?

Our classes bring people together from all walks of life, from all over Philadelphia and the world. Cooking and eating together builds community. Edible Alphabet, a program that teaches English through cooking, creates friendships, breaks down stereotypes, and changes the way our students view Philadelphia.

According to classroom teachers, students who have participated in our school-visit program, Nourishing Literacy, in years past still talk about the impact their visits had on them, sharing their excitement with younger students who are coming in for the first time.

In our summer program for children and teens, Summer Thyme Cooks, our young chefs are sent home with ingredients to recreate class meals with their families. They frequently share photos of their delectable creations, and well-fed families, with us.

What are some upcoming programs you'd like to highlight for families or kids?

On Monday, May 7, Chef Donnell Jones-Craven is teaching Cooking for the Family Gathering at the Culinary Literacy Center. He'll walk participants through creating a delicious meal for your next family party.

Chef Char Nolan will be at the South Philadelphia Library for Meatless Mondays on May 7 and May 21. This all-ages class uses the Culinary Literacy Cart to make a tasty vegan meal.

Our Nourishing Literacy program is in full swing in May, welcoming classes from schools across Philadelphia. This month, students are learning about kitchen science: how food is matter that can be transformed through cooking. Teachers or parents interested in bringing students to Nourishing Literacy in the 2018–2019 school year can email kitchen@freelibrary.org.

How do I register for classes?

You can find our classes on our website. Registration details can be found under Classes. Some programs are ticketed, ranging in price from $5 to $35. We offer free tickets to SNAP-eligible participants; simply call and let us know you'd like to attend: 215-686-5323. Culinary literacy programs in neighborhood libraries are free.