A hit at Hunts Point Cook-A-Thon

Heather Mills returns for second course

By Sarah Grieb

Photo by Sarah Grieb
Heather Mills and Kiannae Lawes show the crowd at the Cook-A-Thon how it’s done.

Danielle Long said her 10-year-old son Jahlil likes to eat two things: chicken and pizza. There are healthy ways to cook chicken, instead of just eating chicken wings fried all the time, and that’s something I’m willing to learn, she said.

Long was one of some 70 people who packed into the dining room at the John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy Charter School, in the BankNote building on a cold Saturday morning in mid-January. As snow fell outside, the smells of garlic and onion warmed the air inside.

People came for a bite to eat, and, perhaps, like Long, to pick up a tip or two on cooking healthy meals from Heather Mills, the celebrity ex-wife of musician Paul McCartney. Mills has pledged to donate $1 million worth of fruits, vegetables and her own line of vegan meatless meats through the Hunts Point Alliance for Children (HPAC).

Billed as a Healthy Meal Cook-A-Thon, the cooking demonstration was the first distribution of food to the community since Mills announced her contribution at HPAC’s back-to-school fair in September. HPAC has calculated that the donation will put food on the table for four to five years.

Volunteer student chefs from HPAC chopped vegetables for a cooking demonstration, while Mills spoke of the benefits of meatless meat. The chicken and beef in the dishes were actually soy-based patties produced by Mills company. The best way to cook it, she said, is to treat it like regular meat. “Cut it up, dice it, shred it, and it has double the protein,” the former model told the crowd. “You’ve cooked with beef, you’ve cooked with chicken, you can cook with this–even easier.”

With Mills’ help, the students prepared two dishes for the demonstration: a stir-fry and spicy potatoes. But apprentice chefs from Wildcat Academy made the main dishes in advance, enough potatoes, burritos, stir-fry, and chili for everyone.

In an interview, Mills said she thought the label of vegan food–food that uses no meat, dairy eggs or animal products or any kind–would turn people off. That is why she chose to make meatless meat, she said. She added that a large portion of what people already eat, including vegetables, rice, and some pastas, are naturally vegan.

“I tend to like to chop up loads of vegetables and make them into sauces, pour it over pasta with vegan chicken chopped up, you know. Then it’s easy, it’s like cooking just like you normally do.”

Most people seemed to enjoy the meat substitute.

While Long said she wasn’t much of a cook, she planned to check Heather Mills website where the former model has promised to post recipes. She even thought she might invest in a wok, she said, after seeing how many things could be cooked in one.

“It’s a nice thing for the community and the food is good,” said Jenny Munett, who had to wade through a media scrum attracted to the event by Mills celebrity. I came in and I was trying to get the recipes but the photographers were all over, she said.

“It blew my socks. It smells amazing,” said Jamel Anderson, the father of Kiannae Lawes, one of the HPAC student chefs. Anderson, who had never tried meatless meat before, said he was surprised to learn that the soy-based food could taste so good. He would be open to trying more dishes like that, he added.

Marta Torres and Jesus Negron, came with their three children and a niece. “It turned out excellent; it tasted like the real thing,” said Torres, who said two of her children were picky eaters, and one will try anything. Negron, who cooks at a daycare center, said making healthy food, like chicken, salad, and wraps, was nothing new to him, but he liked the fact that the meatless meats didn’t spoil as quickly as real meat.

“It couldn’t have been better,” said Maryann Hedaa, managing director of the Hunts Point Alliance for Children. The event met HPAC’s goals of involving youth and bringing community groups together, including, in addition to Wildcat Academy, Urban Health Plan’s Project Hope, Rocking the Boat and The Point.

HPAC wants community organizations to have access to the donated food. The Point will host a No Beef Thursdays teen cafe, catered by Bascom Catering and including speakers and cooking demonstrations, every Thursday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the community center on Garrison Avenue.

Hedaa said another of HPAC’s goals is to get the meatless meat into school lunch programs. Mills recently joined board of directors of the New York Coalition for Healthy Schools.

Although Mills expressed concern that people would resist eating vegan food, Long had eaten most of her meal before she realized she wasn’t eating meat. “Did you know we was eating vegan food?” she asked her son and niece.

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