Taste of Africa

George Kilpatrick hopes that through community cooking classes, people will come to realize that eating healthily is not as difficult as it seems.

Although the kitchen at South Side Innovation Center was locked for the first hour of class, Kilpatrick eventually found the key and was able to cook for the group. Here, he chops cilantro for the spicy chickpea dish.

At the first of six community cooking classes, Kilpatrick demonstrated how to incorporate healthy alternatives into your diet while also infusing African staples into the meal.

“Everybody wants to improve their lives, but they don’t know how to start,” Kilpatrick said. “So one of the things that we’re trying to do is give them tools to start that change.”

Kilpatrick hosts “New Inspiration for the Nation,” a weekly radio show on POWER-620 AM where he celebrates stories about African-Americans leading change in their communities. He partnered with JT Houston, a personal trainer and co-owner of H2Fitness, to conduct “A Taste of African Heritage” on March 5 at the South Side Innovation Center. The class started off with participants introducing themselves and talking about their childhood and family history as it relates to food and diet.

“This class is about taking us back to our historical DNA, the African diaspora, where we can re-introduce plant-based cooking into our diet and make it taste good and begin to change people’s lives,” Kilpatrick said.

Sheila Mends-Aidoo

Sheila Mends-Aidoo

Sheila Mends-Aidoo recalled her parents’ rural roots and shared that she ate a variety of wild game growing up – like raccoon, deer and turtle. Mends-Aidoo, 58, said that one of the problems she encounters trying to live a healthy lifestyle is staying consistent with her diet.

“Some people, myself included, when they get into exercising think they can go and eat whatever they want,” she said. “Diet has to be everything.”

Another pressing issue for Kilpatrick and Houston is the prevalence of health-related illness in the African-American community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of black women and men have hypertension and close to 10 percent have been diagnosed with diabetes.

“Part of this effort is showing people how to eat better so that they can prevent preventable diseases,” Kilpatrick said.

Kilpatrick prepared a raw kale salad for the group to eat first, massaged with olive oil and lemon juice, mixed with crushed red peppers and black-eyed peas, and seasoned with sea salt and Parmesan cheese. Houston then served brown rice pasta with raw spinach, shiitake and portobello mushrooms and onions.

Brandi Williams, 30, said she brought her son Zion to the class because she cooks all the time and her son likes food too. Kilpatrick allowed the participants to take home some of the spices so they could add them to their own dishes at home.

For the main lesson about spices, Kilpatrick used the kitchen at South Side Innovation Center to cook a spicy chickpea dish. He explained the main spices in the dish: paprika, allspice, curry powder and ginger. He sautéed the chickpeas with onions and diced tomatoes and added chopped cilantro to the skillet before serving. Kilpatrick said that many of the ingredients he used could be found in any grocery store and he bought the spices from the Dollar Tree.

Besides affordability, Houston said that another hurdle to convincing poverty-stricken communities to eat healthier is access to fresh foods.

“You have to think, in a community that has public assistance, they can go right to the corner store and use their public assistance there,” he said. “But fresh food is not readily available – produce, even fresh meats – the access isn’t there.”

A Taste of African Heritage course costs $20 for the six classes and includes educational materials and a recipe book. The next session will begin at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 26, at South Side Innovation Center, located at 2610 S. Salina St. Future class dates will be scheduled after each session is completed.

George Kilpatrick and JT Houston discuss the main spices for the dishes they’ll be preparing and how people can incorporate them into their meals.

— Article and photos by Ashley McBride, The Stand staff reporter