Sharp knives, hot pans and 9-year-olds packed into a semi truck sounds like a recipe for catastrophe.
But fourth graders from Our Lady of Perpetual Help School proved it can be a winning pairing on Thursday morning as they wielded blades and minded frying pans in a truck outfitted with bright red cooking stations.
Their culinary success -- omelettes brimming with cherry tomatoes, basil, mushrooms and cheese -- proved one of the mantras of the man behind the big rig: cooking healthy is so easy, anyone can do it.
The Jamie Oliver Food Foundation's brightly striped semi is parked at Bakersfield College to teach that and other lessons in nutritious, home-cooked eating from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and The California Endowment, the big rig's benefactor.
Bakersfield is the second stop on a 40-week statewide tour funded by the endowment.
South Kern is one of 14 California communities plagued by health issues targeted in the endowment's Building Healthy Communities Initiative, a 10-year project.
Kern County's health rankings can be grim. A study using 2010 data found that 43.8 percent of Kern County children were overweight or obese. Only half of Kern kids eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, according to the 2011-2012 California Health Interview Survey.
"(The initiative is) about changing the conditions in which people live in so that they can make healthy choices for their families," said Annalisa Robles, the program manager for the endowment's South Kern site, which includes Lamont, Weedpatch, Arvin and the unincorporate areas of Greenfield.
Robles said it's ironic that Kern has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country, but also grows a bounty of fruits and vegetables for the nation.
The endowment's mission to improve health dovetails with Oliver's passion for fresh, healthy cooking.
"Our aim is to go into these communities and offer these free healthy cooking classes as a way to educate...empower, inspire people to get back into the kitchen, to get back to scratch cooking," said Scott Bottemer, operations manager Oliver's foundation.
The tour pulled into town last month and hired "food champions." After training the locals for a week, the outfit opened up cooking classes for the community taught by the tour's chef and the trainees.
Classes were opened to local groups like OLPH School and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County, and to individuals as well. Slots are still available for classes through Dec. 20.
On Thursday morning, the scent of sizzling butter and sauteed vegetables filled the big rig as the children crafted their omelettes. Ella Luque, 9, expertly folded hers with a yellow spatula.
"It was a little hard when you would crack the eggs because we have to crack them just right or else they'll break or not crack," she explained.
It was Ella's first foray into omelette-making but definitely not her first adventure in cooking. She likes to make penne with pancetta, lemon chicken and chicken marsala with her mother's help, she said. And mom, Karen Luque, was standing by Thursday snapping photos on her phone while Ella chopped, whisked and flipped her way to omelette mastery.
Food champion Verity Harrison helped Ella use her knife and spatula. The Bakersfield native said there are healthier food options in Bakersfield but what catches your eye at first are the myriad fast food restaurants, not the farmer's markets.
A study released by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research last month found that 60 percent of California's 4- to 5-year-olds eat fast food at least once a week.
She hopes the classes show the community that cooking for a family isn't hard.
"All these recipes that we've learned in our training that we've done with the community are simple and very flavorful and we get them done in less than an hour," including prep time, cooking, cleaning and eating, she said.
Before they started cooking, the kids learned how to chop safely and tried runny scrambled eggs cooked by tour chef Matt Harrison.
"I've never really been a big fan of eggs but now like it tastes good and I actually like it," said Ashley Coreas, 10.
In addition to the taste of eggs, the class opened Ashley up to cooking.
"Cooking's not so bad when you're trying and it's something new to you," she said.