New research study teaches healthy cooking and master chef skills

‘Our thought is that this will lead to a significant improvement in not only a participant’s health, but their quality of life,’ says Dr. Mopelola Adeyemo, a lead researcher of the study
Chef Julia Rhoton is the culinary arts coordinator of the UCLA Teaching Kitchen.
Chef Julia Rhoton is the culinary arts coordinator of the UCLA Teaching Kitchen. (Photo by Diana Koenigsberg)

If a professional chef personally taught you how to prepare delicious, healthy meals, and provided all the groceries you needed to do so, how might it affect your health and well-being?

UCLA is offering an opportunity to find out.

Taking place at four academic medical centers across the country, the Teaching Kitchen Research Trial will provide 24 cooking classes, nutrition education and support for making healthy lifestyle changes. Some participants — those randomized into the intervention group — also will receive free groceries and supplies to prepare all the recipes.

“The purpose of this study is to go beyond the standard dietary education approaches and really focus on giving participants new skills they can apply in their everyday lives,” says Mopelola Adeyemo, MD, MPH, who is leading the study at UCLA along with Wendy Slusser, MD and Tannaz Moin, MD, MBA. “We’re actually planning to teach participants how to cook healthy, delicious, affordable meals, and we believe this can lead to significant improvements in not only health, but also quality of life.”

This multisite study follows a pilot study conducted in 2023 by Dartmouth University in conjunction with Harvard University, the findings of which have yet to be published, Dr. Adeyemo says.

Getting into the kitchen

Chef Julia Rhoton, culinary arts coordinator of the UCLA Teaching Kitchen, will be teaching UCLA study participants knife skills and basic cooking techniques, such as roasting, sautéing and baking. 

“We’re aiming to teach fundamental methods, so that even if the participant doesn’t necessarily love the particular recipe that we do that week, they’ve learned the method of sautéing or boiling or how to properly roast vegetables,” Rhoton says, “so they can take those skills into their new, healthy lives and eat all of the delicious things that they love.”

The recipes are standardized across the four study sites — UCLA, UC Irvine, Dartmouth and the University of Texas at Houston — though they’ll be modified slightly to cater to the tastes of each geographic region. 

“Texas is definitely going to be adding a lot more spices to their chili than maybe Dartmouth might,” Rhoton says. “Here in Southern California, we’ll be using as much of those herbs and spices and all of that seasonal produce that we’re so lucky to get here.”

The recipes can also be easily adapted to accommodate vegetarian diets, she adds.

Though Rhoton didn’t develop the recipes, she’s excited about teaching them and introducing people to new foods and flavors.

For example, there’s a farm salad on the study menu that includes farro, a nutty-tasting grain. Rhoton says she’s taught recipes with farro before, and though most people haven’t heard of it or tried it, “the majority of people love it.”

“It’s always really fun to see new experiences and new doors opening in people’s lives, especially when it comes to food,” she says. 

Joining the study

Adults ages 21 to 70 who have a body mass index (BMI) higher than 27 and want to learn to eat healthier may be eligible to join the study. The trial seeks a yearlong commitment from participants with a six-month post-study follow-up. In addition to attending two cooking classes in person at the UCLA Tipuana Teaching Kitchen and weekly or monthly classes online — with ingredients delivered to participants’ homes to feed a family of four — participants will be asked to submit online surveys and complete bloodwork at four intervals throughout the study period. 

Participants do not have to be patients of UCLA Health to qualify.

“This is a unique opportunity for everyone to learn together, not just to improve skills in the kitchen, but to be healthier overall,” Dr. Adeyemo says. “So, I think this study can be beneficial for anyone. You don’t have to have a significant health problem to get something out of this experience.”

Read more about the UCLA Teaching Kitchen.

Take the Next Step

Learn more about the Teaching Kitchen Research Trial at UCLA Health. If you have questions about the trial, call 310-206-8292 or email [email protected].