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Arts & Life

Online Cooking Class Offers Support For Iowa Latino Chefs

Courtesy of La Luz Centro Cultural
La Luz Centro Cultural hosted their first online class Feb. 11. Lili Velasco (top center photo, right) interpreted for the chef who spoke Spanish. "I was interpreting the chef. And so I tried to make the same thing that she was doing. And I was just like the one of the students," Velasco said.

An Iowa nonprofit focused on empowering Latino communities has developed a way to help Latino chefs earn extra income as the pandemic continues.

The March online class will test out whether La Luz Centro Cultural will host its virtual cooking classes long term. In 2019, it started hosting cooking classes to teach about Latino culture and food in person, organized around four events.

When the pandemic forced them to cancel those, they realized that was the time local Latino chefs needed support the most. Latino-owned businesses have seen disproportionate economic impacts from COVID-19.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, at the end of 2020, Hispanic or Latino people had an unemployment rate of 9.3 percent. That decreased slightly in February, which reported an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent. That's compared to a 6 percent unemployment rate for white people in December and 5.6 percent last month.

Aimee Lenth, La Luz associate director, said she hopes the online classes can continue so the chefs can earn extra income and people can learn cultural dishes in a safe way.

“Food is a really easy way for people to come together to share about one another's lives and to actually get to know each other within the communities," Lenth said. "Every time we have an event, word of mouth continues. And so we tend to grow, the longer we run a series. So we'll see where the interest is at, and whether we continue."

Lenth clarified the cooking classes are not just meant for helping chefs financially, or to tell Latinos what to cook. It's about bringing people together during a time of hardship.

"We're trying to say, Let's meet in the middle, let's, let's all work together and build that bridge toward each other. And so food is a really, really accessible way to do that," Lenth said.

Lili Velasco, a program director at La Luz, interpreted the Feb. online class. The guest chef spoke Spanish.

"After the class, she was like 'thank you, I haven't done something like this in a long time.' She was so excited," Velasco said.

Cooking "students" are able to interact with the guest chef and ask questions in the class. Lenth said families appreciated the creative way of making dinner while also supporting local business.

"It is open to anyone, but we're especially looking to recreate that local connection that we were able to have in person, but now just online, in order to build those relationships," Lenth said.

La Luz plans on showcasing food and culture from all regions of Spanish-speaking countries. Lenth explained it is important people understand the Latino culture is "not a monolith."

Once the pandemic subsides, La Luz will host in-person classes at their new location in Hampton.