WITS CookCamp Takes the Show on the Road

In English and Spanish

In the Fall of 2018, WITS Chef Ricardo was preparing for his first CookCamp training at his first WITS school, CS 55X. Excited but cautious, he knew from his time in the kitchen that there was not yet a strong relationship between himself and the school cooks, and he was nervous if the CookCamp training would go well. But it turned out what the kitchen really needed was skills-based training and leadership building — and CookCamp did just that. Many years later, those nerves turn into success in all different forms. School cooks are excited to try recipes but have never tried those foods and don’t think the kids will, but then, they make a recipe and marvel at how easy it is to make while being fresh and tasty. WITS National Program Director Marion Williams remarks, “At all the CookCamps, the success is the transformation from the disbelief of scratch-cooked recipes to the ease and confidence of making a nutritious, tasty dish.” 

This August, Wellness in the Schools is bringing the CookCamp training experience nationwide: Redwood City School District (CA), San Rafael City Schools (CA), D.C. Bilingual School (DC), and New York City (NY), and a pilot CookCamp at D.C. Bilingual School (DC), with additional CookCamps in the fall expected in Camden City School District (NJ) and Newark City School District (NJ). These CookCamps will train school cooks on topics such as scratch-cooking techniques, knife skills, menu planning, personal development and wellbeing, and learning the why of the work we do together to ensure access to nourishing food for students. As Wellness in the Schools’ national footprint is growing, we have developed a CookCamp travel team to lead on all trainings and provide a flexible follow-up support experience for school kitchens nationally. In addition to expanding to more school districts, this model creates a larger network of support and one where we can learn from other districts. 

The star for innovation in this year’s CookCamp tour is at The Bilingual School in Washington, D.C., where the entire WITS CookCamp training will be conducted in both English and Spanish for the first time. This approach allows our formal training program to adapt to the community, with all-bilingual side-by-side training, hands-on demonstrations, and materials like printed recipes and instructional videos. 

WITS Chefs often speak some Spanish in kitchens where most cooks speak Spanish, colloquially known as ‘kitchen Spanish,’ and WITS recipe brochures are printed in both languages to students after WITS Labs. Yet as now WITS Program Manager and RDN Ricardo Díaz describes, “the process of preparing for a CookCamp in Spanish is all hands on deck. It involves a lot of time spent developing our own notes so we feel confident delivering that material bilingually. Many WITS Chefs and a network of partners have been extremely helpful in reviewing the translations and making sure the language accurately reflects Wellness in the Schools’ mission clearly and concisely.” 

All of the upfront preparation is ready to soar at The Bilingual School’s WITS CookCamp training next month. Ricardo visited the school earlier this summer to assess kitchen and cafeteria needs, as well as to understand the school wellness culture as a whole. “I am excited for the opportunity to come back and cook with them and interact with the students,” Ricardo remarked. “Getting to know the cooks and integrating our training with their culture will be very impactful.” 

This new approach will echo to other CookCamps following D.C. Ricardo continues, “Our approach is important because we don’t really see school cook training programs like CookCamp anywhere else. It’s important we are going through this process and developing material that provides an effective training experience for Spanish-speaking populations, which is often the primary language in school kitchens and among students in all of our markets.” From D.C. to New York City, California, and Florida — we will soon be reaching all of our school kitchens and cooks with the CookCamp experience in both English and Spanish!

WITS CookCamp training