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East High teachers use the power of food to connect with students

Marty Kauffman WXXI
Teacher Liz Conroy stirring sauce and meatballs with a culinary student from East High School.

Some teachers at East High School are using the power of food to connect with their students.

“Well I got some competition here,” says Liz Conroy who teaches English and Journalism at EAST. "The jambalaya might be a dark horse in this whole thing but I feel pretty confident about my meatballs. Tried and true."

Conroy says it’s important everyone to experience each other’s backgrounds.

“We are a melting pot at East High and all over our country,” said Conroy. “And I think the more that we understand and appreciate about each other the easier it is for everyone to find common ground. And the best way to than food.”

Soul food as redefined by Jeff Christiano, better known as Chef Jeff, speaks to more people than African Americans.

“So I kind of look at African American soul food as our American Soul Food,” Chef Jeff said. “But if you look at every culture. Outside of our country. Every culture has their version of soul food." 

Chef Jeff has taught culinary arts at East for nearly twenty years. Chef Jeff recruited teachers to cook dishes from their cultural backgrounds with the help of East High's culinary students. It’s part of a competition called the Soul Food Throw Down. 

"Soul Food is food that has a genesis in taking a meager ingredient something that is usually cast off get its usually the lower end of the social scale gets that ingredient," said Chef Jeff.

A panel of culinary students judged the food’s presentation and taste while students and staff got a good meal.

That’s something that Chef Jeff hopes can bring East High’s melting pot together. If only for lunch.

“And that what happens is this miraculous thing happens when you apply love and bringing family together, this food gets elevated,” Chef Jeff said.

As for Liz Conroy. She was right to be confident in her meatballs. She finished in first place.

Videography by WXXI's Martin Kaufman:

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.
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