These days, mobile food trucks have become all the rage with their ease of convenience for both the business owners of these tasty pop-ups as well as the consumers who enjoy their mouthwatering meals. With their wheels rolling into neighborhoods, bustling street corners, and local events, these culinary caravans have become an integral part of the urban dining culture across the globe. Their appeal lies in the delicious dishes they serve and the unique and vibrant atmosphere they create. Whether it’s gourmet tacos, mouthwatering BBQ, or exotic international cuisines, food trucks have redefined how we experience food on the go.

But what if there was a food truck that offered more than just a delicious meal? What if it could satisfy your taste buds and that thirst for knowledge that we all have and teach you the art of cooking? Enter the latest culinary sensation in the South Sound community — Tacoma Metro Park’s very own Mobile Teaching Kitchen!

The Mobile Teaching Kitchen Rolls Out in Tacoma

Custom-built and donated by Regence BlueShield in 2020, the green truck with cartoon fruits and vegetables smiling against a backdrop of a Tacoma city skyline is now back in action after a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its mission? To offer healthy cooking demonstrations to families and children in Tacoma, with a particular emphasis on serving the region’s food deserts — urban areas with limited access to healthy and affordable food options.

Metro Parks Tacoma mobile teaching kitchen
You are never too young to learn about cooking healthy! This is why at the Mobile Teaching Kitchen, children ages 3 and up are more than welcome to sit in and participate in the live demonstrations. Photo courtesy: Metro Parks Tacoma

Each month, the Mobile Teaching Kitchen will visit various locations across urban Tacoma. Recreation Supervisor Molly Barnett oversees Metro Park’s Arts, Fitness, Senior Programming and Community Youth Engagement and has worked with the Mobile Teaching Kitchen since its journey began in 2019.

“Food insecurity and food deserts are a very real thing in Tacoma, and we want to help address them by bringing healthy and affordable food experience directly to neighborhoods,” Molly explained while asking about the driving force that brought the Mobile Teaching Kitchen to life.

Now armed with its goal to bring healthy food, culinary demonstrations, and hands-on classes to the community so that they can build on new and old skills to help with their personal goals of healthier eating and cooking, the Mobile Teaching Kitchen is armed with knowledge, fun learning experiences and good grub as it makes its way through the city.

Metro Parks Tacoma mobile teaching kitchen
Chefs for the Mobile Teaching Kitchen are more than happy to answer any questions you may have related to cooking during their one-hour live demonstration. Photo courtesy: Metro Parks Tacoma

A Tasty Demonstration Nourishes Food Deserts with Healthy Options at Mobile Teaching Kitchen

Currently, tour sites vary for the 26-foot trailer. “However, when it is on tour, we will have it at community centers,” says Molly.

This movable quality of the mobile kitchen truly goes above and beyond, as it directly brings free, healthy meals to residents, reducing transportation barriers and facilitating healthier eating habits in the process.

Once the mobile kitchen finds its designated stopping point for the tour, the welcome wagon is rolled out. The curtain, or in this case the truck’s two large windows, rises, and showtime begins as the crowd gathers for some tasty demonstrations.

The Mobile Kitchen’s dedicated chefs then take center stage for an hour-long demonstration. Audience members are free to ask questions throughout the demo. Chefs shared their helpful tips and tricks, usually focusing on the meal they’re putting together, but they definitely don’t mind exploring other cooking topics while preparing the meal.

“We talk about cooking on a budget, cooking to feed your freezer, and other healthy cooking options,” shared Molly.

After the demonstration, participants can taste the food and enter the Regence Mobile Teaching Kitchen to see the setup. The complimentary paper-chef hat makes it official as you climb aboard to get an up-close view of how the magic all happens.

Metro Parks Tacoma mobile teaching kitchen
Attendees can get a taste for themselves after the demonstration is over to see if the meal the chefs prepared tasted just as good as it smelled while being prepared. Afterward, when they leave with their swag bag, they’ll find the recipe and possibly a gift card inside to purchase the ingredients themselves to make the meal at home. Photo courtesy: Metro Parks Tacoma

A Heart-Healthy Collaboration Makes the Regence Mobile Teaching Kitchen Possible

The American Heart Association and Safeway proudly present each demonstration put on by the Mobile Teaching Kitchen. It’s a cause near and dear to their hearts, just as much as it is to Metro Parks.

“We are giving people skills to have tasty food that is still food for your heart,” explained Molly, who added that the demonstrations allow them to help these organizations spread the word about heart health-based cooking.

The American Heart Association is especially proud of the partnership as it complements the nutrition security projects they’ve been working on in Pierce County for the association’s Puget Sound chapter. This includes collaborating with local food banks, housing and clinics to ensure people can access healthy, culturally relevant food.

In addition, Regence Blue Shield has also been a huge partner in making this mobile dream a reality, as they were the ones who donated the custom-built mobile kitchen.

Metro Parks Tacoma mobile teaching kitchen
In the future, Metro Parks and the Mobile Teaching Kitchen hope to do more work with youth so that they can have the cooking skills and knowledge they may need to succeed in the future, especially when it comes to living and eating healthy. Photo courtesy: Metro Parks Tacoma

The Mobile Teaching Kitchen Plans to Change Lives One Cooking Class at a Time

With the Mobile Teaching Kitchen now on the road again for its free cooking demonstrations, Metro Parks plans to run it from April until the end of October each year, avoiding the cold months so that the trailer can be adequately winterized. This gives community members plenty of time and ample opportunity to make it to any of the kitchen’s demonstrations, of which no two are the same.

“Cooking items range from Korean chicken with Brussels sprouts to lentil meatballs to whole wheat pancakes with strawberry compote,” shared an excited Molly, who noted that there was something for everyone interested in participating as the chefs like to plan demonstrations together so that they can offer as much as possible to the community. No matter the dish, though, the goal is always the same — for a healthy meal.

For those interested in checking out these live, mobile demonstrations, it is strongly recommended they register online beforehand, as this ensures participants receive their complimentary free swag bag at the end of the show, complete with a custom apron, a copy of the recipe demonstrated that day, and occasionally a $50 gift card to Safeway so that attendees can use these cards to recreate these meals at home.

In addition to the Mobile Teaching Kitchen’s classes, Metro Parks also offers fitness classes within local community centers and personal training. Molly shared these have been great resources for those who take advantage of both. “We have had people pair our culinary classes with some of our fitness classes to bring on a healthier lifestyle.”

As the cold starts to move in for winter 2023, it’ll soon be time to close up shop for the season, but these fitness classes will still be available. For next year, there is hope that the Mobile Teaching Kitchen will offer more healthy resources to the community.

“I hope that we will be able to offer more demos and hands-on classes to the community,” said Molly, “We’d also like to expand on working with youth and adults to provide them with the skills they will need to be successful in the culinary industry, as well as bringing these skills home.”

Those inspired by the cause of Metro Parks and its kitchen are always more than welcome to donate to the Tacoma Parks Foundation to help support fantastic resources like it in the South Sound that aim to make community members healthier and happier.