An aroma of blended spices and breaded chicken filled the Thurston Hall common kitchen Thursday evening as students juggled chopping boards and saucepans, perfecting their culinary creations during the first installation of a Residence Hall Association-sponsored cooking class.
Twelve students filed into the common kitchen to cook Italian and Thai food with Thurston Area Coordinator Marcella Wong and RHA President SJ Matthews. The association decided to host the class to help first-year students navigate eating on a college campus and cook “healthy, affordable meals,” Matthews said.
Wong bought groceries for the class and the RHA collected pots and pans from 26 common kitchens in first-year residence halls to accommodate the two-hour-long class, she said.
Matthews and Wong taught students how to make low-cost, easy-to-make options like pasta bolognese and Thai fried chicken, and the GW Dining vegetarian representative taught students how to make tofu stir fry to ensure all dietary needs were accounted for, Matthews said.
“We decided to cook dishes that were simple to make and used a lot of fresh ingredients,” she said.
Matthews said the RHA had been planning the first class since the beginning of the fall semester. The organization used social media channels and emails to advertise the events, and Matthews said the first class was successful, so she hopes to expand the classes to other halls.
The RHA decided to host cooking classes not only to teach first-year students life skills but also to serve as a bonding experience for students within the residence hall, Thurston Hall President Regan Jackson said.
Jackson said the cooking class brought residence hall officials who are typically involved with management – like Wong and Matthews – into the “day-to-day,” so they can meet people and build relationships with students at every level.
“We do want to teach people how to cook but also to build more of a community in Thurston and bring people together who are all interested in cooking,” she said. “Our job as the RHA is to build community within the dorm, and this is one of the ways we wanted to reach out to our residents.”
Jackson said that after she was elected as Thurston president, a variety of students – including those with an extensive cooking background and those who had no cooking experience – expressed interest in having cooking courses on campus.
“You can be totally new to cooking and not even be able to work a stove,” Jackson said. “If your only experience is microwave food, you’re totally welcome.”
RHA leaders hope the classes will run about once a month or every few weeks, Jackson said. She said the organization wants to implement additional multicultural dishes, like South and East Asian cuisines or European recipes, in future lessons to accommodate students of different cultures.
Jackson said anyone who wants to share their passion for cooking and making meaningful dishes can teach the classes. She said the cooking classes serve to highlight GW’s diversity by learning about cuisines from around the world.
“It’s kind of incentive to recognize the different cultures we have in Thurston because it’s such an amalgamation of all these different people and places all over the world,” Jackson said. “And to just be able to capture that all in a dish, I think that would be really cool.”
Students who attended the class also learned how to use cooking as a way to maximize the money on their meal plans.
Katharine Wilhelm, a freshman and Thurston resident, said the class was very “therapeutic” and gave her a chance to take a break from midterms before schoolwork picks up again.
Wilhelm said she already knew how to cook, but the class taught her how to budget her GWorld and make healthier choices since her parents paid for her food at home.
“I’ve been eating out a lot since I’ve come here,” she said. “I don’t want to go out every single day, so I wanted to come here and see a cheap way to make food.”