Simple Legume Draws Guests to Wood River Valley Church

June 07, 2020 | Church | Stephen McCandless

After the worship service at Wood River Valley Church in Hailey on Feb. 1, 2020, head elder John Hall visited with Idaho newcomer Sirouj "Chef K" Khachatourian, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate, about the possibility of offering a cooking class for the community. A few weeks later, a capacity crowd of mostly first-time visitors arrived for a free class and brunch, and they requested more classes be organized for which they would be happy to pay a fee.

“The concept of combining a class and a full meal was like inviting people to a dinner and a show. This is an outstanding way for us to connect with and witness to a wide variety of people in our resort community,” Khachatourian reflected.

Khachatourian decided to focus on a couple of recipes using nutrient-rich garbanzos (aka chickpeas). These are staples in the diet of his Armenian heritage, which is also noted for its kabobs, flatbread, pilafs and stuffed grape leaves. Chef K would demonstrate making a basic hummus as well as a spiced garbanzo dish, educating the guests about the benefits of plant-based diets and unprocessed foods per the National Geographic Blue Zones study while he prepared both recipes. He also wanted the guests to sample an assortment of beneficial hot beverages, and he added a seasonal fruit platter to round out the brunch menu.

“Hummus 101” became the title of the event. Colorful flyers were posted on community bulletin boards, and a black-and-white ad appeared in the calendar of events section of the newspaper. Hall’s phone began to ring as enthusiastic people reserved a spot for the class, which was limited to 40 because of the size of the fellowship room. A waiting list had to be created.

Four weeks later, as Hall greeted the people when they arrived and directed them to the room at the far end of the church, he observed them becoming more relaxed as they peeked into the sanctuary and moved past the Sabbath School classrooms toward the fragrant aromas of cumin, garlic and herbal teas.

Most of the visitors had never been to an Adventist church. Some admitted going online to learn something about the Adventist Church. A few were delighted to learn Adventists are associated with the Blue Zone study and promote good health and vegetarianism.

As the guests arrived in the fellowship hall, Mary Peterson, a realtor, offered them a hot beverage before they selected a seat at one of the tables. “I was surprised to see a number of people I knew in town whom I would never have guessed would register for something like this," she shares.

Chef K mixed ingredients in the Cuisinart and fired up his single burner as he educated and engaged the guests in a discussion on the selection and preparation of healthy foods as well as the findings of the Blue Zones study, which included the Adventist community of Loma Linda, California, where he used to live.

“The presenter was obviously a high-quality chef who came across as very knowledgeable, credible and likeable. He has a good handle on the world of food,” observed Sandra Blackmer, an out-of-town guest. “The attendees expressed delight that the church would offer a free cooking class and hoped there would be more they could pay to attend in the future.”

Meanwhile, the kitchen crew was putting together plates with the hummus toast — toasted nine-grain bread topped with hummus, guacamole, arugula and za’atar vinaigrette and crowned with an over-easy egg — and a scoop of the spiced garbanzo on the side with a fresh squeeze of lemon. Abram Davis, a seasoned cook, managed to juggle toasting racks of bread in the oven, frying eggs on the cooktop and supervising a couple of assistants who assembled the toast towers. Other church members delivered the plates, served the fruit, and assisted with drink refills or seconds on the main items. Meanwhile as the questions and answers, as well as ideas for future classes, continued between Chef K and the enthusiastic brunch group. Many took careful notes on the back of the recipe cards and handouts that included Blue Zones dietary guidelines, nutritional benefits of the beverages provided and a map identifying the five Blue Zones around the globe.

Pushing out about 50 plates of food from a tiny kitchen in a short amount of time created some chaos and a special camaraderie. “It was kind of a clumsy dance for us requiring situational awareness, improvisation and a good sense of humor,” remembers Francine LeNane. “We recovered from the tray of burnt toast and dropping guacamole into the dressing quickly.”

As attendees departed, several insisted on LeNane accepting cash donations to the church in appreciation for the event. Many people remarked about the tastiness of the food and appreciation for learning about the healthy diet profiles of the Blue Zones.

Church member Martha Miller brought two out-of-town guests who really enjoyed the demonstration and the meal. “One of them said she would come back (from California) to attend a future event. I also met a neighbor from my part of the valley who really liked the experience. We hope to connect again while walking our dogs. A man from the Broadford neighborhood told me he was really happy he had come. Hopefully, this event will have planted some seeds that can now be cultivated by the Holy Spirit.”

“This was a lay led, planned and staffed event. When pastors are willing to empower, support and unleash the talents of our members, God can make amazing things happen,” says Stephen McCandless, Wood River Valley Church pastor. “This event has God’s fingerprints all over it. Our small but willing congregation moved ahead in faith, trusting God to do what He does best — bring people to the church.”

The Wood River Valley Church team will soon be following up with those who attended Hummus 101 to begin planning the next cooking class, which might use an online format given the current COVID-19 concerns. From a little legume, extraordinary things could continue to unfold.