Growing up on her grandfather’s farm on the island of Trinidad & Tobago, Kashia Cave was surrounded by healthful food. “We would bake bread in a dirt oven. Our eggs came from our ducks or chickens. Anything we ate, we grew,” she said. “And everyone – no matter what age – had a place and a responsibility in the kitchen.”
This early love for fresh cooking stayed with her when she moved to Connecticut and raised her two sons. She taught them to cook at an early age. Soon, their friends also wanted to learn. The neighborhood parents offered to buy ingredients for these makeshift cooking classes at Cave’s home.
“That’s when I realized there is a need for this in our community,” said Cave, a graduate of both Lincoln Culinary Institute and the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners. “Cooking provided a basic life skill that could really help these families, many of which were single-parent and low-income households.”
This inspired Cave to create My City Kitchen, Inc., a community cooking program for children ages 6 to 17. It offers two after-school classes per week. Children learn to cook a healthy recipe and take a portion home to share with their families. The program has served more than 580 students.
Cave builds the menus around the food that is available in the community, as well as where students’ families shop. She even takes her students on trips to the store so that they can plan and shop for their own meals. “Once kids realize they can make a healthier version of the food they love, with ingredients they can afford, they get really excited,” she said.
My City Kitchen also creates special programming to meet the needs of the community. A recent program, Healthy Moms = Healthy Babies, taught teenage mothers how to make healthful meals for themselves and their children.
Cave said the results have been life changing. One of her students, sent to her from the juvenile justice program, didn’t speak a word to her for three weeks. But after building a relationship through food, he became a passionate junior chef who is graduating with honors.
“Cooking opens the door to change. Teaching children to cook impacts entire families,” said Cave. “This program is a way to reach out and fight for our children. That’s why I work so hard.”
As founder and executive director of My City Kitchen, Inc. (MCK), Kashia Cave uses cooking to teach basic life skills to children and young adults.
Ms. Cave developed MCK to pave the way for youth to become responsible and healthy adults through education and health awareness. MCK’s goal is to change negative mindsets, and show youth a bigger and brighter future through cooking. The program gives participants an understanding of where food comes from and how to prepare it independently; the development of culinary skills and knowledge helps build confidence and self-esteem. In addition, MCK’s Healthy Moms = Healthy Babies program focuses on teaching teen mothers how to provide healthier food options for their babies and families on a limited budget.
Ms. Cave has been featured in numerous print publications, including The Hartford Courant, Meriden Record-Journal and New Haven Advocate, as well as on local CBS, NBC and Fox news programs. She also has received numerous awards in recognition of her work. In 2011, she was named one of Connecticut Magazine’s Generation Next 40 Under 40 honorees. In 2013, she received the Meriden, Connecticut, Board of Education Community Support Award for Outstanding Support to the Meriden Public Schools; and in 2015 she received the Meriden/Wallingford NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Community Service.
Ms. Cave is a graduate of Lincoln Culinary Institute in Hartford, Connecticut; and the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners in Costigliole-D’Asti, Italy. Learn more at mycitykitchen.org.