Recipes for Success: Students Growing in the Kitchen and School

Nov 21, 2016

When we think about homework, tutoring and test preparation, we don’t usually think food.  However, a few Iowans are combining great food and education in an innovative approach for children to get better at school, communication skills, and making well balanced meals.

Elliot Test Kitchen in Fort Madison is a place where young people can go to learn about food, but they can also learn a whole lot more. Elliot Test Kitchen gives students access to tutoring in many different subjects and also ACT prep. 

On this hour of Talk of Iowa, Host Charity Nebbe talks with Kumar Wickramasingha, founder of Elliot Test Kitchen and the Test Kitchen Educational Foundation, and Andrew Troxel, Technology Integrator for the Fort Madison Community School District and one of the consultants for the organization.

Wickramasingha nods towards his origins has an important impetus for the creation of the Elliot Test Kitchen.

“I’m originally from Sri Lanka.  Afterschool programs are very common.  We would go over any subject.  When, in small town Iowa, [they] didn’t have that, I was surprised.”

He likes the double meaning of test kitchen.

“Where 'test' means education and 'kitchen' means food.  My background is culinary, I worked in a restaurant here.  So, after school, kids have a place to come down and teachers have a place to come down. Get your homework done, I will cook you the most awesome meal after you’re done.”

Kids in the program make most dishes themselves, peeling potatoes for a side dish, or gathering and cooking ingredients with the help of Wickramasingha and teachers.  They are encouraged to taste and eat the food they have prepared.

All the magic isn’t just in the kitchen.  Students' successes are praised in this program, giving them esteem and a place to shine.

“We celebrate academic achievements.  I have posters in the windows of kids who have done great academic things.  We post on social media when a kid cooks something great or does something great in school.”

Wickramasingha says it’s easy for kids to get involved.

“We tell them to go talk to your student counselor and the counselor will give us a call.  It’s that simple.”

Andrew believes in the impact of this program, “I thought it was a wonderful idea.  Definitely something missing in our community.  An opportunity for youth to advance.  It’s tough not to get on board with a guy to risk a lot to bring this sort of thing to our community.”

He also talks about the importance of feeding the children.

“A lot of kids in our county don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

Also, this hour, a discussion with Sue Hoss, one of the founders of “Look Cook and Eat”, a digital magazine designed to help people with intellectual disabilities learn how to cook.  Karen Lamb, a Special Education Teacher at Indianola Middle School who uses “Look Cook and Eat” with her students, also joins the conversation.