The sounds of sizzling stir fry or chopping knives and the smell of delicious food may not be what you expect to find walking into your public library, but at Lakeview and Meadowridge Libraries in Madison, it's a regular occurrence. Cooking classes for kids of all ages with Kid Chef Lily Kilfoy have become a staple at both of these locations.
"We have this amazing kitchen!" Meadowridge Youth Services librarian Jody Mohrbacher explains. "We want to find as many ways as possible to engage the community with it."
The Meadowridge kitchen was a part of the community redesign a few years ago. It was designed as a way for the library and Meadowood community center to host community dinners.
Jody, with Chef Lily's help, has also turned in into a resource for teaching children and families about healthy eating and trying new things with easy recipes they can recreate at home.
"We have hosted cooking classes for all ages, including incorporating cooking into a preschool storytime about food." Jody says. "Lily really is a 'kid chef.' She's welcoming and flexible and knows exactly how to get all the kids busy in the kitchen."
Feeding the Community
At the Lakeview Library, there isn't a community kitchen, but that hasn't held back Chef Lily and youth services librarian Madeleine Kain.
"Our kids were coming in hungry," Madeleine explains. "We started having snacks for them after school, but we saw cooking classes as a way to have more healthy food, as well as an opportunity to learn some techniques they could use at home."
At Lakeview, they started small with some of Lily's no-cook recipes, and they were a huge hit. "Lily is so welcoming, and also so able to think on her feet. Our classes are drop-in, and she is always able to make room for another teen to jump in and join if they are interested. Even if it means I have to run next door to the co-op to get another dozen eggs!"
Now, Chef Lily's classes are a monthly occurrence at Lakeview - events that all of the kids look forward to having on a regular basis.
"My favorite part of each cooking class is the last 15 minutes," Jody says. "It's busy, busy, busy, and then there is a calm over the kitchen as all the kids sit down, talk, and share a meal together. And everybody has to try everything."
Lily is insistent that all of the kids try each one of the dishes (usually at least 3 in each class). They get to vote YUM or YUCK. "But it's usually a YUM," Madeleine explains. In one class, Lily brought shrimp, tofu, and veggies and taught the kids to make sushi. "They were initially really grossed out at first, but they really loved the whole process and then were excited to try it, and that they liked it!"
Over time, it's not just the kids who have gotten more adventurous. Now, Lily regularly brings a hot plate and other small appliances to up the level of cooking at Lakeview. "We may blow a fuse every now and then, but it's worth it," Madeleine laughs. "And now I know where the fuse box is!"
Chef Lily's classes have also strengthened the library's relationship with other community partners. Neighboring Willy St. Coop now donates all of the food for monthly cooking-themed Terrific Tuesday programs for teens, as well as summer Saturday evening teen programs at Lakeview.
"Cooking at the library has become one of the favorite things that I do," said Chef Lily. "Because it's free, I get to see so many more kids than I wouldn't normally get to see and they are so joyful. I feel like sometimes the kids at Lakeview get a bad rap, but they are the best kids ever. They are so interested and surprised when they try new things (like avocados and tofu.) In one program I taught them how to flip their own pancakes. The looks on their faces! It was awesome."
And it's obvious our patrons are just as delighted with Chef Lily. “I don’t really know how to cook," one parent told Jody. "But coming to chef Lily’s classes has helped my daughter enjoy cooking, and now we really enjoy cooking together.”
We're so grateful for partners like Chef Lily who are excited to use the library as a platform and expand our impact in the community, and grateful to partners such as CUNA Mutual Foundation for funding these and other cooking classes at the Meadowridge Library. We're delighted that food literacy can be one more way we support Madison.
When libraries closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19, we worked with long-time partners like Chef Lily to continue programming virtually. Now Chef Lily has a 12-video series of virtual cooking classes and downloadable recipes that parents and kids can use at home. Check out the new Cooking with Chef Lily series online now!