- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2001

Ask William Bednar to whip up a perfect souffle, prepare a succulent prime rib or oysters Rockefeller and the executive chef at Hogates wont break a sweat. Hes used to satisfying the palates of up to 1,500 discerning surf and turf lovers each day at the 63-year-old Washington restaurant on the waterfront in Southwest.
Clearly, chef Bednar loves what he does. More importantly, he enjoys sharing his culinary expertise with others — food, he insists, doesnt have to cost a fortune to be flavorful and nutritious.
Thats why he volunteers to teach "Eating Right" classes to low-income residents who live in the metropolitan area. The six-week, two-hour cooking classes are sponsored by Share Our Strengths (SOS) Operation Frontline. SOS is a national anti-hunger, nutrition education organization.
Operation Frontlines program teaches folks who might struggle to feed their families on low, fixed incomes the cooking, nutrition and budgeting skills needed to make healthy and economical food choices. The program is run in the District in partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank.
"Were teaching teen-age mothers or quite possibly 30-year-old mothers how to cook. Theyre raising children and they dont know what nutrition entails. The dishes we prepare are simple and are based on the food guide pyramid," Mr. Bednar, 43, says.
"A lot of people think a burger, fries and a Coke is a meal. It doesnt bode well nutritionally. What you spend at McDonalds for one meal could feed a family of four for the same price," the Culinary Institute of America graduate says.
Right now Mr. Bednar is teaching 12 teen-agers and young adults who range in age from 16 to 21, from Covenant House Washington in Southeast, how to think like chefs and prepare tasty, nutritious and well-presented dishes for themselves and their families. He holds these classes at the Petey Green Center in Southeast.
Nutrients are vital, but Mr. Bednar knows firsthand that presentation can take the simplest of meals a long way. In classes, he stresses the importance of buying fresh fruits and vegetables in season. For example, when his class prepares veggie stir-fry, Mr. Bednar will use broccoli, carrots and peppers — vibrant vegetables that add a burst of color to the plate and are plentiful in area grocery stores.
"We try and teach people when shopping to buy what is in season. That way, they get fresh ingredients at the best prices," he says.
• • •
The congenial chef joined Operation Frontline four years ago. A regular participant in Washingtons annual "Taste of the Nation," a springtime food and wine benefit to fight hunger, he says that when the call went out for chefs to lend a hand towards stomping out hunger in their communities, he immediately got on board.
"It doesnt take a lot of money to eat well and nutritionally. A family of four can eat for $10 a day. They wont be eating shrimp and lobster, but they can have a nutritional meal. Thats why this type of program is invaluable," says the chef, who is known for bringing along some of Hogates famous rum buns to cooking classes.
That sentiment is shared among chefs, nutritionists and community organizations. Sara Trott, Operation Frontlines food and skills coordinator at the Capital Area Food Bank in Northeast, works with such community agencies as Food & Friends in Southwest; the House of Ruth, For Love of Children and the Whitman Walker Clinic in Northwest; the Adelphi Langley Park Family Support Center in Hyattsville and the Crestwood Elementary School in Springfield. Since the programs inception in 1993, the response from the culinary community has been phenomenal, she says.
Like Mr. Bednar, many other area chefs jumped into helping others help themselves. Among the teachers are Susan McCreight Lindeborg of Majestic Cafe in Old Town Alexandria; independent caterer Mary Bartlett; and sous-chef Ronald Reid at Sam & Harrys in the District.
Mr. Bednar believed so strongly in the program, he recruited three colleagues at Hogates — Walter Portillo, Kelly Whitfield and Carolyn Anderson to teach classes, Ms. Trott says.
The "Eating Right" classes, held at various locations around town, give participants hands-on experience. Classes also teach valuable lessons in life, she says.
"The classes go beyond the kitchen. Its teaching people self-sufficiency and basically teaching them that they do have choices in their lives — as small as what they buy at the store — choices that can impact their lives. The classes build self-confidence, while teaching budgeting and culinary skills," Ms. Trott says.
"We always have four or five classes running simultaneously. Theres no set schedule, and we work with the agencies to determine when to schedule a class. We go out to the centers and agencies and conduct the classes on the premises, so that people dont have to come to us. We will go where they are," Ms. Trott says
Lessons are geared toward hands-on instruction, but other key components play a major role in the cooking classes. Students learn about nutrition, budgeting and sanitation. Along with the chef, a nutritionist is on hand to talk to groups of eight to 15 per class about the vitamins and minerals in various fruits and vegetables.
"The first four lessons concentrate on the food guide pyramid. We make a barley jambalaya — barley is a grain a lot of people arent familiar with, yet its very high in fiber and its inexpensive," Ms. Trott says.
The idea behind these menus is to teach people how to cook healthy, low cost, good tasting and easy meals, she says.
Once a week, the students prepare a main dish — which might be herb roasted chicken, vegetable stir-fry or barley jambalaya — a side dish and a dessert like bread pudding. Ms. Trott says classes arent designed to stop people from eating what they like. Its all about moderation.
"Were not trying to stop anyone from eating red meat. Its about giving people information so that they can make informed choices. And its the little dietary changes that people make that have the biggest impact on their health as time goes by," she says.
During the fifth class of "Eating Right," participants take a trip to the grocery store with their shopping lists. Classes face certain culinary challenges while strolling down the supermarket aisles with their shopping cart. They're on the lookout for bargains that will make nutritious meals, she says.
"They have to shop for a healthy meal for $10. One of the ladies who participated in a class had four or five children and she was able to get a complete well-balanced meal with the $10 certificate. People always laugh at the beginning of the classes when I tell them about shopping with $10," Ms. Trott says.
Depending on the days menu, students go home with a bag chock-full of the ingredients used in the recipe they fixed in class. They in turn can prepare the meal for family members at home, she says. No stranger to Giant, Ms. Trott visits the store four to five times a week. Although most of the food for the classes comes from the Food Bank, she runs into the store to pick up extra ingredients just in case, she says with a smile.
After the hard work of preparing the meal is finished, everybody sits down to enjoy a healthy, appetizing meal together before the clean-up begins. Cooking doesnt have to be a chore. It can be fun.
"This makes for great social interaction. Food is a great way to get people together so they can enjoy themselves. Its also a great way to introduce teens and adults to a variety of food they might otherwise not have tried," Ms. Trott says with a smile.
Bon appetit.

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