From Cutting Board To Storyboard | YAJI Day Four

 The right recipe for journalism? Nadia Gaskins tries it out with chefs in ConnCAT's culinary program. Lucy Gellman Photos.

The right recipe for journalism? Nadia Gaskins tries it out with chefs in ConnCAT's culinary program. Lucy Gellman Photos.

Step one: lay the raw, unfeathered bird out like a totem, set by itself in the center of a cutting board. Run your fingers around the skin, seeing where it comes away like linen. 

Step two: Don’t flinch if it’s tender and slick to the touch. Or if the innards are still hanging out in there, rimmed by fat somewhere between the breast and legs. Or if you sense the crunch of bone against knife, and then hear it happening.   

 Dinner?

Dinner?

Step three: If there are journalists underfoot, especially if they are just starting out, look them straight in the eye. Wait to see what questions they have. If they’re looking right back at you, there’s still a chance they’re just as nervous as you may be. 

That was the recipe for day four of the Arts Council’s new Youth Arts Journalism Initiative (YAJI), set Thursday morning and afternoon at the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT). To read more about YAJI click here; to read more about days one through three, click here and here.  

A job training and professional development center set in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood, ConnCAT offers courses in the culinary arts as part of a three-pronged curriculum, which also includes options in medical billing and coding and phlebotomy. This spring marks the center’s fourth cohort of culinary students, led by Chefs Jenna Martin and Larry Murphy and supervised by cohort one graduate Stanley Hair.  

As culinary students began Thursday’s lesson—deconstructing and cooking whole chickens— eight student journalists followed them in the kitchen, doing their first “ride along” in preparation for formal pitches and assignments in the field.

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The kitchen transformed into a kind of airlock as they entered, gut instinct kicking in as soon as students had passed beneath the doorframe. On the other end, Martin was waiting with a clean white coat and freshly washed hands.       

“We’re excited that you’re here,” she said, walking students through house rules. No running. And it’s best if the reporters are conscious enough of space (and knives) that everyone leaves with their fingers intact. Cautiously scrubbing up under hot water, students were off, partnering with culinary students as they performed minor surgery on their birds.

At one counter, Mellody Massaquoi and Naama Gorham pulled out their recorders and notepads, and looked up at two budding chefs who were inspecting the lower half of their chicken. Tiny, pink bits of  flesh hung down from where its heart had once been.

 Martin demos cooking chicken with onions as culinary students and YAJI-ers look on.

Martin demos cooking chicken with onions as culinary students and YAJI-ers look on.

They communed for a moment in whispers, looking at their classmates for a moment. Then Massaquoi took a deep breath. 

“So—what spices are you using?” she began. Her shoulders relaxed as the culinary student launched into a laundry list: salt, pepper, paprika, fresh herbs. An herby butter rub for just beneath the skin. 

Across the room, Nadia Gaskins had gone solo, pulling aside a vegan chef to talk about her unexpected break into running a food cart. The chef listed off her career moves—punctuated by the birth of her first baby, who was being raised vegan—as she separated left from breast, perfecting a dish she would never eat. Gaskins inched her recorder closer. 

Students Samantha Sims, Julie Francois, and Grace Trufan took different approaches, trying multiple chef interviews, kitchen walkthroughs with video, and a few still shots for a potential photoessay. On Francois’ phone, the kitchen showed up as it was, then sped up and slowed down as she added basic edits. 

 Francois shows off a video idea. 

Francois shows off a video idea. 

Those skills kicked in again that afternoon, as students met with local filmmaker Travis Carbonella upstairs at ConnCAT, and learned about storyboarding. Gathering around a table, each drew out nine rectangles on a piece of paper and jumped in, working on a narrative that they could commit from brain to page, and page to Instagram. 

THE ADVENTURES OF AN INTREPID CHEF, one began. Trufan dragged a gif of a grinning chef to the lower corner. His wooden spoon rotated in his hand.   

The Insta-angle wasn’t for everyone—which is one of the points of the program. As her classmates worked through their designs, Adia Sakura-Lemessy began drafting the first paragraph of a story on cooking methods and mentorship at ConnCAT. 

“It’s just a draft,” she said to the group as the afternoon drew to a close. But it was already growing into the first reported out story of the session.  

 The Insta-angle wasn’t for everyone—which is one of the points of the program. As her classmates worked through their designs, Adia Sakura-Lemessy began drafting the first paragraph of a story on cooking methods and mentorship at ConnCAT. 

The Insta-angle wasn’t for everyone—which is one of the points of the program. As her classmates worked through their designs, Adia Sakura-Lemessy began drafting the first paragraph of a story on cooking methods and mentorship at ConnCAT.