The old saying "if you want something done right, do it yourself" rings true for McKinley Pierce—the idea helped him define and develop his passion for food. Born in the Mississippi Delta where food deserts are common and access to grocery stores and obtaining fresh fruits and vegetables always seemed out of reach, Pierce became determined to improve his circumstances.
When his family moved to the Jackson area, a new world of good food appeared. As his exposure to new tastes and dishes increased, his palate changed.
Pierce credits Outback Steakhouse as the restaurant where he honed his skills. "I had no experience in a kitchen, so they gave me my first opportunity to cook," Pierce explains. "I started to incorporate that knowledge into cooking meals for my family. I like to eat, and I was able to make whatever I had a taste for."
For his next challenge, he strives to nurture and engage young people in a new world of cooking, healthy eating and lifestyle changes. Pierce firmly believes that changing the eating habits of children can change the lives of families. "Once you know how cooking works, you can look in the refrigerator and piece together something nutritious," he says.
With this goal in mind, Pierce joined the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Mississippi, or BGCCM, to lead its culinary operations and mitigate the struggle of food inequality. Since 1936, Boys & Girls Clubs have provided after-school and summer youth-development programs for at-risk children in the Jackson metro area. BGCCM currently serves about 2,200 youth ages 6 to 18 in Hinds and Madison counties at four locations. The newest Club offering is the recently named "Dole's Sunshine for All" culinary program.
Pierce uses firsthand experience struggling with access to affordable, nutritious food as an asset when teaching children to cook healthy recipes that are inexpensive and easy to prepare. Dole Packaged Foods supplies many of the ingredients needed for the cooking demos.
"Right now, the 15 (club members in the culinary program) are learning the basics: how to properly use knives, food safety and sanitation," Pierce says. "But we've also made mango chutney and chicken pasta with Alfredo sauce. The students were all so excited to show their parents."
Future lessons will cover all aspects of cooking from searing fish, to grilling steaks and sauteing vegetables. "I want children to see cooking as a career option," Pierce says. "This is a great skill to have. Once you get the knowledge, get some experience. Then you'll always have a job."
To learn more about the Boys & Girls Club of Central Mississippi and its programs, visit BGCCM.org.