AUGUSTA — The little squares of chocolatey goodness looked just like the brownies 7-year-old Adam Lagendere sometimes helps whip up at home, but the label said different. These were black bean brownies.
Adam thought they wouldn’t taste good, but he took one anyway. He and his friends in Cub Scout Pack 684 are supposed to try new foods as they work on an achievement in nutrition.
“I liked it,” Adam said.
The brownie tasted like chocolate, not beans, he said.
Adam and fellow Cub Scout Tyler Pelletier, who enjoyed a cup of a beef stew full of root vegetables, learned one of the key lessons of the open house for the Alfond Center for Health’s teaching kitchen: healthy foods, and healthier variations on common favorites, can be delicious.
The $250,000 teaching kitchen is a centerpiece of the new hospital’s Prescott Community Education Pavilion, which will host education programs with an eye on healthy lifestyles and prevention. MaineGeneral will use the space for cooking demonstrations ranging from large public events such as Wednesday’s open house to small classes, including ones specifically for schoolchildren.
MaineGeneral CEO Chuck Hays said he hopes the classes will demystify healthy cooking.
“Many times you hear it’s too expensive, or it’s too hard to cook or it can’t be quick, and we live in such a fast-paced world these days,” Hays said. “It’s really to demonstrate to the community that you can cook healthy, you can eat healthy, and actually have them try the different foods.”
More than 230 people registered to attend the open house, so staff took down movable walls to maximize space. People at the other end of the room from the kitchen were able to watch chef Conrad Olin at work on big-screen TVs and projected onto screens.
Also stationed around the room were tables of samples of some of the recipes demonstrated on Wednesday, including butternut squash soup, baked oatmeal and the beef stew.
Dietitian Shelley Goraj, the hospital’s food service manager, said the recipes were chosen for their ease and affordable ingredients. The ingredients are also easy to find either at supermarkets or from local sources, Goraj said. Many of the ingredients used Wednesday, including the beef, carrots and oatmeal, were produced in Maine.
Sarah Smith, who helps the hospital source food from about 40 local farms as manager of The Pickup in Skowhegan, said it will be good for public health and local farmers if the teaching kitchen leads more people to cook healthy meals at home. It can be intimidating at first, she said.
“It’s kind of like if you just dumped them in China and said, âCook this cuisine,'” Smith said. “If you’re not used to cooking with fresh ingredients, it’s very difficult.”
Darren Payson and Janet Oprendek, of Winslow, said they’ve often fallen into the trap of defaulting to fast food or processed food because it seems quicker, but they’re trying to be healthier.
“It feels like it takes more time,” said Oprendek, 39. “You have to force yourself to think more about planning and what you’re going to get.”
They picked up several recipe cards to try at home and said they came away with some ideas. Oprendek said apples and walnuts made for “tasty surprises” in the baked oatmeal, and Payson said he never would have thought to add turnips or rutabaga to beef stew.
“I was surprised how good some of the foods were, for a healthy choice,” said Payson, 38.
The next event at the teaching kitchen is Healthy Cooking the Mediterranean Way, 5:30-7 p.m. on Wednesday. It’s free, but attendees must sign up by calling 621-7266.