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Case opens new kitchen classroom to help expand teaching of food as medicine

A crowd gathers to learn more about Case Western Reserve University's new teaching kitchen in Case's School of Medicine Thursday.
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
A crowd gathers to learn more about Case Western Reserve University's new teaching kitchen in Case's School of Medicine Thursday.

Case Western Reserve University Thursday unveiled what it’s calling the largest state-of-the-art teaching kitchen in the U.S.

The kitchen at Case Western Reserve's School of Medicine, in the Robbins Building at University Circle, will be used for research, teaching, and culinary training, officials said during a ribbon-cutting Thursday.

Hope Barkoukis, chair of Case’s Department of Nutrition, says the kitchen will help students from a variety of disciplines, but especially in the medical field, learn how to cook healthy food and understand why that matters.

The goal is to get them to understand that even if you only have 5 minutes, it's not about telling your patient what they can't eat," she said. "It is about expanding and making them understand what you can eat to improve health and also reduce the risk (of disease).”

Stan Gerson, dean of the Case Western’s School of Medicine, says it’s becoming increasingly important for students to learn about social determinants of health, or how the various components of a person’s environment affects their health, and nutrition is part of that. He said food access and poor nutrition are major contributors to adverse health effects in Cleveland.

Barkoukis said it’s a rarity to see culinary medicine programs in the U.S. (only 20% or so of all accredited medical schools have one), and even rarer for them to have a teaching kitchen as large and well-equipped as the new one at Case. She said the kitchen will help students in the Mandel Wellness and Preventative Care Pathway, which is a series of coursework that’s meant to help students develop healthy habits that they can then use to help future patients.

Christine Park, a third-year nutrition major on the pre-dental track at the School of Medicine, says the kitchen was a great new amenity for the college. She says she had previously taken a cooking and life-skills class that would have been much-improved with the addition of the new facilities.

“I can tell that this kitchen is going to be so useful for teaching students the application, but also, I think just getting comfortable in the kitchen because I know like I came into college not knowing how to cook and there was everything I had to learn from scratch,” she said.

Winston Li, a third-year pre-med student, said he knows students will learn a lot in the kitchen.

"I really think that if we can include more preventative medicine in the form of good nutrition, we can solve a lot of the medical issues that pop up," Li said.

However, he did say he hoped to see the kitchen become available for use by various student groups on campus.

Barkoukis said, at least in the first year of the kitchen’s operation, that will be tough considering classes will be going from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with research happening after until roughly 8 p.m. or so each week.

Eventually, the hope is to expand people’s use of the kitchen, Barkoukis said, with one idea being to invite practicing nurses and physicians in Cleveland come to use the facility to get training similar to what students will be receiving.

The kitchen is equipped with stations for students to cook at and at least eight monitors that will show close-up video of instructors' work, as they cut vegetables or stir a pot of soup, for example.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.