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Celebrity Chef Returns to Kansas for Healthy Cooking Class

Chef Rock Harper with cooks

What do you get when you put 30 cooks in a kitchen with a celebrity chef? As one of those cooks said, “Chaos – but I love it!”

AARP Kansas, along with our partner, the Kansas African American Affairs Commission, brought 30 African American/Black women together one Saturday morning in Wichita to learn from Celebrity Chef Rock Harper (of Hell’s Kitchen fame) how to make a quick and fairly easy meal in a way that’s healthy but still tastes good.

The purpose of the cooking class was to raise awareness about diseases that disproportionately impact African American/Black women and communities, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Learning to prepare and eat healthy meals may help prevent or at least manage some of these concerns. Chef Harper provided the cooks with ideas for simple substitutions in ingredients that surprised and delighted them.

Several of the participants indicated they were caregivers, had been caregivers or anticipated being a caregiver. Healthy eating is important for caregivers (the majority of whom are women) who may feel overwhelmed with their caregiving responsibilities and who may not believe they have the time, knowledge or ability to prepare healthy meals. AARP’s Long-Term Care Services and Supports Scorecard, released earlier this year, revealed that 38 percent of caregivers in Kansas experience stress because of time constraints. AARP hopes that by providing tips for cooking healthier meals, including time-saving techniques, it will lessen the stress, help caregivers take better care of themselves, and help them manage the reported weight gain that often comes with being a caregiver.

“We have organized a similar and very successful event with members of the Native American population in Northeast Kansas for the last three years,” said AARP Kansas Director Maren Turner. “Because of the classes, participants have made changes in lifestyle and cooking habits. We wanted to share this extraordinary experience with members of the African American community in Wichita and were glad that Chef Harper could help us.”

Before the cooking began, participants learned about chronic illnesses that impact African-Americans, and how even minor changes in food preparation and ingredients can contribute to a healthier lifestyle. This message was delivered by AARP Volunteer Barbara Sabol who serves on the AARP National Policy Council and whose granddaughter was one of the cooks.

Once the meal was prepared, the cooks served it up to their invited guests including friends and family members. In a surprise visit, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer dropped by with his grandson to meet Chef Harper. The event concluded with an address by Wichita City Councilwoman LaVonta Williams who spoke to the group about the impact healthy residents make on a livable community. Williams has worked with AARP in the past on the Wichita Grandparents Park and is very vocal in her community about all AARP has to offer to the 50+ population.


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