Cooking With CASA: Teaching foster youth valuable cooking skills

Photo courtesy of Kris Marshall Clovis Culinary Center

July 17, 2023 – The joy of cooking is what Maryam Cooke feels when she makes food at home for her family and friends.

Cooke is hoping to share that same joy with foster kids that are under the caring wing of CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates.

Cooke is one of the many advocates with the association that serves foster children in Fresno and Madera counties.

She has currently been guiding and offering her services to foster children for three years now.

From her experiences with foster kids, she recognized a need for education in basic skills like preparing meals.

“Recognized there are a lot of deficits in just regular everyday skills that normally would have been taught at the hands of a mother or father…,” said Cooke. “Oftentimes we find all they end up getting is basic needs met. It is my job to see what else we can do to give them the additional support that kids in regular homes normally do.”

Cooke decided to create a program that consists of six courses that will be held July 13 through August 17 for kids to partake and learn the basics of cooking.

Cooke called the Clovis Culinary Center hoping to create a partnership between CASA and the center, to help make the program a reality.

Operations Manager for the Clovis Culinary Center, Kris Marshall said she is very excited for Cooke’s program and loves how the center can provide space and resources for kids to learn important skills.

“To know that kids don’t get that opportunity to enjoy and understand it and just even for livelihood…,” said Marshall. “The fact that she wants to provide this for kids is just right on target with our mission for community involvement and growing the kitchen.”

Cooke said the courses will focus on the fundamentals like basic recipes, techniques and knowledge of cooking methods.

The course will cover techniques like cutting, chopping, stirring, and using heat on a stove. Recipes will include meals like soup, rice, eggs, salads, beans and much more.

“I really want to focus on teaching them about the basics of building a meal,” said Cooke.

“So we’re going to focus on making sure you have protein, vegetables, and a carb. Creating those building blocks of meals and what they look like and how they can be healthy as well as filling is going to be a big focus.”

Costco donated 10 cooking kits to the kids who enrolled in the course. Each attendee will keep their personal cooking kit to use in the class and afterwards.

The kit contains essential resources they will need when preparing their own food.

Jayme Harris was a foster child who went through several foster homes growing up.

Harris is very thankful for how CASA and her advocate guided her, and currently stands as an advocate for the association today.

She said she wishes there was a program that existed like this when she was younger.

“We don’t learn how to do those things in the foster system, I know with my foster parents I did not learn how to cook,” said Harris.

“If I would have known about something like that, I would have wanted to be a part of that. It was much harder for me to transition after I turned 18 and moved out. From there I had to figure out how to cook certain stuff. I was looking on social media or looking up recipes, or having someone come over and teach me how to do something.”

Marshall said she is excited to see a program like this grow and continue to provide for kids that benefit from the education and kitchen.

“I’m proud of Maryam, I think she’s an amazing, strong, powerful woman, and I am excited to work with her,” said Marshall. “I’m so honored and grateful for everything that this program has given me so far, and I can’t wait to give whatever I can back to it.”

Cooke said there are currently 7 kids in the class, which means there is space for more foster youth who are interested in learning to create some culinary delicacies.

She said together with the cooking kits and course education, that the kids will be able to gain a sense of empowerment wherever they go on their path in life.

“Teaching kids how to do the basics, but with materials and products they can get anywhere including the dollar store, dollar general, or convenience store down the street,” said Cooke.

“Being able to feed themselves sustainably, cheaply, and inexpensively, but also gives themselves that sense of comfort and warmth that you have with any good meal.”

If you or your foster youth would like to volunteer or partake, reach out to the Clovis Culinary Center at (559) 324-2083 or CASA of Fresno and Madera Counties at (559) 244-6485.

Nikki is a Fresno resident and a graduate of Fresno State University, with a Bachelor's of Arts degree in Media Communications and Journalism. Nikki spent some time as a staff reporter at the Fresno State Collegian Newspaper, and now currently works part time at the KFSN-TV station in Fresno. She enjoys local community events, arts and entertainment, and crime news.