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Cooking with the commander

Lt. Col. Judy Rattan, 47th Medical Support Squadron commander, encourages Laughlin leaders to share their talents with those around them. She considers her experience sharing her knowledge of cooking to be rewarding. “Not only does this class bring the Airmen together to give them something to do on a Friday evening, it also teaches them valuable life skills in an entertaining environment,” Rattan said. (U.S. Air Force photo by the 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs)

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – What talents are you blessed with? What hobbies do you love? How about sharing those with our Airmen?

My husband, Chris, and I would often see Airmen in the commissary with only frozen pizza, chips and soda in their shopping carts. We would occasionally stop and chat with them about healthier options. The responses we received back were typically: “I don’t know how to cook.” We took this as an opportunity to share our gifts with our Airmen.

We made a list of what items would be required to offer cooking classes to 12 Airmen, on a monthly basis. Chris went out and purchased the supplies, and I recruited a wing staff agencies key spouse, Crystal Ballard, assist me with planning menus, shopping for food, and teaching basic cooking techniques to 12 Airmen once a month.

We get all the way down to basics, including: knife skills, how to shop by unit price, nutrition, cost per meal and healthy substitutions. Everyone is required to taste each offering. And of course, each class starts with a safety briefing.

The Airmen are instructed on how to set the tables, clean the produce, prep their mise en place (everything in place), and follow recipes. We always have an appetizer, a meal including a vegetable, starch, and protein, and a dessert.

My husband has a “green thumb” and grows many of the herbs we use in containers in my yard on base. I teach my class how to identify herbs by sight, taste and smell.

Once the cooking is complete, Mrs. Ballard leads us in saying grace, then we enjoy a family style meal and great conversation. We all clean up together and pack the equipment back into my trunk. All this is done in 3.5 hours and for approximately $5 per meal. The Airmen are always surprised by how little it costs to cook versus eating out. I’ve been told that a good 3 course meal can cost $18-$24.00. I encourage them to shop and cook in groups of two to four to keep costs down and have a fun social event. Many of them have become quite good cooks over the past year!

For many, this class is the first time they have ever cooked anything. They are always so proud of what they created and how good it tastes. Typically, they take photos of the meal they have prepared and send photos home to Mom. Not only does this class bring the Airmen together to give them something to do on a Friday evening, it also teaches them valuable life skills in an entertaining environment.

On occasion I have had a “guest chef” to instruct in how to prepare something from a different culture. Most recently I had Lt. Col. Justin Wetterhall, 86 Flying Training Squadron director of operations, come in and teach a class on Moroccan food. He spent four years living in Morocco, and he brought in some fancy cookware, and taught the class how to make a delicious couscous dish with chicken and vegetables. For dessert he made mint tea and served it in a fancy Moroccan tea set. We all had a wonderful evening, including Wetterhall.

What is your talent? I challenge all my squadron commander cohorts to share one of your passions with our Airmen. You might be surprised at how much fun you can have! One thing is for sure: your efforts will be appreciated!