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After-school class teaches much more than cooking

Students in Chef Laura Valcour's Gobble Up Cooking classes earn chefs hats at the end of each six-week session.  |  Sandy Illian Bosch/Sun-Times Media
First-grader Addison Linn (left) and third-grader Hannah Priester listen as Chef Laura Valcour explains the difference between parsley and cilantro, during Gobble Up Cooking at Oak School in Hinsdale.  |  Sandy Illian Bosch/Sun-Times Media
Jimmy Leaven, Cullen McTigue and Hannah Priester chop chicken for their Indian-inspired couscous dish.  |  Sandy Illian Bosch/Sun-Times Media
Sofia Galati prepares the ingredients for a healthy and tasty dish during Gobble Up Cooking at Oak School in Hinsdale.  |  Sandy Illian Bosch/Sun-TImes Media

An Indian-inspired dish of chicken, couscous and vegetables isn’t the average kid’s choice for an after-school snack. But it hit the spot for members of the Gobble Up Cooking class at Oak School in Hinsdale Dec. 16.

This is the second year the class, taught by Chef Laura Valcour of Burr Ridge, has been offered at the elementary school, and it’s the second year third-grader Annie Ambrose has participated.

“It’s not just teaching kids to cook,” said Annie’s mother, Lynn Ambrose.

As a member of the school’s parent teacher organization, Ambrose is in charge of student enrichment programs. She said the PTO-sponsored program is helping to turn kids into good eaters as well as good cooks.

“Chef Laura teaches etiquette, proper knife use and how to set a table,” Ambrose said.

Most importantly, she teaches children to make healthy choices and to try new foods.

“I’ve tried a lot of new stuff,” said third-grader Hannah Priester.

The 90-minute after-school class meets in six-week sessions on Mondays and includes children in first through fifth grades. Tuition is $150 for each session.

Valcour, co-owner of Chef 4 a Day in Willowbrook, even works some math, chemistry and biology lessons into her Gobble Up class. In the final class of the pre-Christmas session, children learned the turmeric that helped to give their chicken couscous its color and flavor can also fight infection and inflammation. Lemon not only adds zest to a dish’s flavor, it can help fend off a cold. And those chewy white parts of the chicken are tendons, which attached the chicken’s bones to its muscles.

“We have power foods here today, guys,” said Valcour, who is careful to make nutrition a big part of every class.

Ambrose said the class has made her daughter, and the whole family, think twice about what they choose to eat.

Fifth-grader Claire Cummings admits she was apprehensive about trying the “grown-up grilled cheese” the class concocted a few weeks ago.

“I was afraid of it, especially the pepper jack cheese,” she said.

But in the end, she discovered that grilled cheese sandwiches can go way beyond American slices.

Valcour soon will expand her Gobble Up class to Elm School. Students in first through fifth grades will have the chance to join Valcour in the kitchen on Thursday afternoons beginning Jan. 16.

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