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Cooking with Boston Public Library’s new chef-in-residence

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Glorya Fernandez (right) teaches a student how to cook black-eyed pea fritters at the Roxbury branch of the Boston Public Library.
Glorya Fernandez (right) teaches a class participant, Claudia Stewart, how to cook black-eyed pea fritters at the Roxbury branch of the Boston Public Library. Katelyn Umholtz/

Inside the Boston Public Library’s Roxbury branch kitchen, their new chef-in-residence Glorya Fernandez has a tough task ahead of her: convincing her class that the vegan black-eyed pea fritter they’re about to make together is just as good as a meat dish — and easy enough to make at home. 

The Juneteenth class on June 17 was the third class ever in the new series of free courses offered at the Roxbury branch’s nutrition lab, built in 2021. Fernandez came on as the chef-in-residence earlier this year, with the expectation that she would build a curriculum not just used for classes at the Roxbury branch kitchen, but potentially at all the other branches too. 

Glorya Fernandez at the Boston Public Library’s nutrition lab in Roxbury. (Katelyn Umholtz/

When hiring Fernandez, there were no plans for what the class would look like, other than it must be for the community — all ages and all skill levels.

So that meant Fernandez could bring her own philosophy to the class. Not a professional chef, Fernandez learned to cook out of necessity. She had a family to feed, after all.

“I don’t really love cooking,” Fernandez admits. “I really enjoy eating. I had to learn to cook, first as a wife, then as a parent. However at a very young age, I had developed a tricky relationship with food.”

From weight issues as a kid, to seeing family members suffer from cancer and diabetes, it changed her outlook on food and its impact on the body. From there, she started paying more attention to what she cooked, and then she wanted to help others. 

She has led classes at teaching kitchens for nonprofit Daily Table, she’s an ambassador for another nutrition nonprofit, Oldways, and she runs gogobytes, her educational meal prep program. Fernandez doesn’t label herself a vegan, but teaching plant-based, vegan, or vegetarian recipes will be a major part of her instruction — sneaking in fruits and vegetables to “familiar dishes in unfamiliar ways,” she said. She also tries to avoid highly-processed foods. 

It was the Boston-based Oldways that brought her to the library, where she’s done programming before. A few months later, she heard about the chef-in-residence search, so she gave the library a call. 

“Working here at the nutrition lab, it’s really my dream job,” Fernandez said. 

A plate of vegetables and fruits at the Boston Public Library’s nutrition lab in Roxbury. (Katelyn Umholtz/

Her job began with community listening sessions to gauge what residents would want out of the class. What she mostly heard was a need for teaching the fundamentals, so the first two classes in June were all about knife work. 

Fernandez also considers who lives near the library in Roxbury and Dorchester: largely diverse and lower-to-middle-income families. She said the ingredients needed to be familiar to the students, as well as time and cost-effective. 

So in honor of Juneteenth, that meant celebrating the black-eyed pea, native to Africa and popular in the American South. The class of seven sang a verse of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before Fernandez led them to finely chopping bell peppers and using products like flaxseed and mayo alternative Veganaise. 

The students, ranging from young adults to retirees from several Boston neighborhoods, each received their own printed recipe sheet to follow. 

A class participant fries black-eyed pea fritters at the Boston Public Library’s nutrition lab in Roxbury. (Katelyn Umholtz/

They shared ingredients — selected by Fernandez, who had spent her afternoon at Market Basket and Stop & Shop — as well as some tools like mixing bowls and measuring cups. Each student volunteered to take care of a task in the process, whether it was mixing together flax eggs (an egg substitution requiring flaxseed meal and water), mashing black-eyed peas, or chopping red bell peppers. 

“I’m definitely interested in all things cooking,” said Catherine Lovings of Dorchester. “But I’m also trying to fill up my life. You can only watch so much TV.” 

Other students were similarly there to give themselves something to do, or to learn a new skill. For some, the fact that it was a free cooking class — a rarity in Boston, students noted — and after work was convincing enough to give it a try.

In the 30 minutes it took to blend ingredients and fry the fritters, there was plenty of improvisation, guessing, and confusion along the way. In other words, not so different from cooking new meals at home. 

Black-eyed pea fritters frying on a pan at the Boston Public Library’s nutrition lab in Roxbury. (Katelyn Umholtz/

The end product was indeed an edible black-eyed pea fritter. Some came out in near-perfect form for a fritter, while some students workshopped what they could do differently next time. Maybe more flour. Try baking it next time. Swap in sweet potato for carrots for a different flavor. Cook at a higher heat. 

But maybe the biggest win for Fernandez came when some students declared that a purposefully meatless appetizer was actually tasty. 

“Who knew black-eyed peas could be so good,” Lovings said. “You don’t miss the meat.”

What’s next from Fernandez? She’s still planning out much of the curriculum, but there are at least two classes slated for the remainder of the month, both for students interested in learning how to build…

Read More: Cooking with Boston Public Library’s new chef-in-residence

2024-06-20 20:10:00

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