Every bite of food we eat tells a story. Here’s ours:

The Free Library is advancing literacy in Philadelphia in a unique and innovative way–with a fork and a spoon. Cooking and eating are educational acts and provide opportunities to learn math, science, languages, history and so much more. Using cooking as the vehicle for learning, the Culinary Literacy Center advances literacy through food and cooking around a communal table.

Opened in 2014, the Culinary Literacy Center is the first space of its kind in a public library and serves as a model for libraries worldwide. The Culinary Literacy Center is based in our kitchen classroom at Parkway Central, but we offer programming at nearly all of our neighborhood libraries. Culinary Literacy Center programs teach healthy cooking, build community, and promote civic dialogue.

Every month, we host over 30 programs throughout the city. Register for an event and you might see:

  • Your favorite cookbook authors or local chefs demonstrating how to make a signature dish.
  • An immigrant-led cooking class, showcasing the diversity of tastes and cultures in Philadelphia.
  • A class of third graders experimenting with new foods and cooking a meal from scratch.
  • English-language learners practicing new words while making a new dish–and new friends.
  • A registered dietician showing how to build a healthy lifestyle, starting in the kitchen.

Pull up a seat at our table and see what’s cooking at the Free Library of Philadelphia!

A Toolkit for Public Libraries

The Culinary Literacy Center at the Free Library of Philadelphia created this toolkit to help other public libraries replicate their work and launch programs of their own.

Download PDF version
What is Culinary Literacy?
We define Culinary Literacy both as learning how to cook and learning literacy through cooking. There are multiple literacies we teach through the context of cooking: math, reading, writing, science, technology, health and nutrition, cultural, historical, and more. The possibilities are endless!
What types of programs do you offer?
  • We have programs for everyone:We offer programs to everyone from preschool students to senior citizens and everyone in between. We host classes that are open to the general public as well as those geared toward non-native English speakers, class trips from local schools, and adult literacy students. We even offer classes for families!
  • We cover many food interests: Our classes cover topics from knife skills to how to cook vegan soups and stews, from how to butcher an animal to demonstrations by some of Philadelphia’s best chefs! We have a series on cooking healthy meals with your family and a series that teaches about eating African Heritage foods.
  • We link our programming to the Library in innovative ways: Our programs tie in with other library initiatives like One Book, One Philadelphia, Author Events, and the exciting exhibits that the Free Library offers.
The Culinary Literacy Center has something for everyone!
How do I find your classes? How do I register for them?
You can find our classes right here at freelibrary.org/cook under Classes. Registration for the programs that are open to the public is at freelibrarycook.eventbrite.com. If you’d like to stay up to date on all of the happenings at the Culinary Literacy Center, you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter!
Are your programs free?
The majority of our programs are free! However, some of the classes do have a cost. You can find more details at freelibrary.org/cook. All programs that have a cost will be clearly indicated in their description under Classes.
Amy's Pastellios offers Philly locals a taste of Puerto Rico throughout the city
Al Día
May 2, 2022

Amy Rivera Nasser always saw first hand how Puerto Rican cuisine was created from her mother's kitchen in Hunting Park, Philadelphia. "She was always in the kitchen cooking something," Rivera Nassar said in an interview with AL DíA News.
How to make soul food with a healthy twist? For Black History Month, a West Philly chef demonstrates
February 5, 2022

On the first weekend of Black History Month, the Free Library of Philadelphia's Culinary Literacy Center invited the public to celebrate soul food with a healthy twist.
What Día de los Muertos sugar skulls mean to one Mexican artist in Philly
October 29, 2021

Ivonne Pinto-García is not afraid of death. In fact, she accepts that death is inevitable and the destination where we're all headed. She only hopes that when she is physically gone from this world, that she is placed on an altar and honored on Día de los Muertos.
Edible Alphabet at the Library
The Cook's Cook
October 23, 2021

Edible Alphabet at the library is a free series of classes that teaches English through cooking. Language learning through cooking began at the Culinary Literacy Center of the Free Library of Philadelphia, in 2016.
How public libraries are part of the solution to food insecurity
May 25, 2021

According to the USDA's latest Household Food Insecurity in the United States report, more than 35 million people in the United States experienced hunger in the year 2019. And that number may have even shot up much higher to 42 million people last year during the pandemic.
A longstanding commitment
Al Día
February 23, 2021

The American Heart Association steps up to support Philadelphia during the pandemic.
How did the Free Library's cooking school go virtual? By reading up on social media and Zoom.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
January 12, 2021

How do you teach knife skills over the internet? How do you lead a cooking class without providing the ingredients, or the tools, to make the recipe? And how do you cultivate a sense of community via a computer screen?
Cooking, Culture, and Community During COVID: Q+A with Virtual ATOAH Instructor Paul O. Mims
Oldways - Cultural Food Traditions
September 22, 2020

In response to COVID-19, Oldways' popular cooking and nutrition curriculum, A Taste of African Heritage (ATOAH), has largely moved online.
Libraries Tackle Literacy Through Innovative, Practical Programs
Library Journal Website
September 9, 2020

From youth to adults, newcomers to lifelong locals, library literacy programs that work flex to achieve what matters to each patron.
Learning a New Language through Food at Philadelphia's Free Library
Edible Philly
March 16, 2020

Since 2014, the Free Library of Philadelphia's Culinary Literacy Center has been a hotspot for innovative food education. Every month's roster of classes is rooted in the center's mission to advance literacy through food.
Program coming to Lawncrest offers lessons in English and food
Northest Time Newsweekly
February 14, 2020

Edible Alphabet, which aims to help people learn English through cooking, is coming to the Lawncrest Library this month.
Cooking up summer fun at the library
Philadelphia Public School: thenotebook
July 30, 2019

The library is more than a place for children to escape from the heat and dive into their favorite stories this summer. At Parkway Central Library, young people have the opportunity to cook up some delicious fun.
Teaching Spanish with cooking: A journey through the Edible Alphabet en Español
Al Día
June 28, 2019

When the Free Library of Philadelphia first offered an Edible Alphabet course in 2015, it was for a group of torture survivors from all over the world who knew very little English. The class melds cooking a recipe with practicing a language, as participants learn the words for ingredients and actions in the kitchen as they put them to use.
A Cooking Class Where New Immigrants Learn The Recipe For English
January 22, 2016

For many immigrants, coming to America is full of the unfamiliar – from the language to the food. In Philadelphia, a program aims to help these arrivals settle into their new country by folding English lessons into a cooking class.
Let a master teach you the tricks of friend chicken
April 24, 2015

Erwin will share the techniques required to execute her fried chicken, through the Culinary Literacy Center at the Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Plenty of warning: Tuesday, June 2 at 6 p.m. at 1901 Vine Street. Theme is 'Fried chicken in less than an hour.'
GSK’s $5M to Philly groups helping kids eat better
March 20, 2015

The announcement was made at The Free Library's fourth-floor renovated meeting room, which has a wonderful view of the city skyline. Across the hall is a new teaching kitchen to provide space for Philly kids to learn how to cook, with the hope being they will dish up for themselves and families healthy meals to help cut into the city's obesity rate.
My Daughter’s Kitchen program keeps expanding
March 5, 2015

The mission has not changed as much as it has expanded since the lessons began with my own daughter in 2012: to convince not only students, but also parents and teachers - and our readers - that it's possible to cook fresh, healthy, really tasty meals without spending a lot. (This program is held at Parkway Central’s Culinary Literacy Center with students from the Russell Byers Charter School)
Phila. Free Library Holds Healthy Cooking Classes with Focus on Military Vets
CBS Philly
January 14, 2015

This morning the Free Library of Philadelphia, on Logan Circle, hosted its second monthly session of “Chow Down with Veterans” in its fourth-floor culinary literacy center kitchen. “This program focuses on eating a plant-based diet, and so what we are trying to teach them is how to cook delicious, nutritious, easy meals,” says culinary literacy specialist Liz Fitzgerald.
Anchors cook up a storm to ward off cancer
Philadelphia Daily News
November 19, 2014

FOX 29's Iain Page and Lucy Noland, and CBS3's Kathy Orr, cooked up a storm yesterday at the Free Library of Philadelphia's central branch for Cancer Treatment Centers of America's Thanksgiving Throwdown benefit.
Starting from scratch
Philadelphia Inquirer
October 29, 2014

The new commercial kitchen at the Free Library of Philadelphia is, by far, the most beautiful, tricked-out kitchen in which I've ever cooked.
Improving literacy, one recipe at a time
June 3, 2014

In between chugging olive oil and cracking wise, he imparted knife skills, food-preparation techniques, and a killer panzanella recipe to a crowd that included restaurant workers with limited English, kids finding their way around the kitchen for the first time, and parents and grandparents navigating their families' nutritional needs. These are some of the demographics that will be served by the Free Library's new Culinary Literacy Center, which opened Monday with demonstrations from Vetri and fellow chef Jose Garces.
Breakfast burrito a winner in school culinary test

Randolph's winning recipe, cooked up by a team of students at the Free Library's Culinary Literacy Center on Thursday morning, will appear on the menu at all 86 of the district's full-service cafeterias.

The foundation of the Culinary Literacy Center is built on strong partnerships and collaborations with other like-minded organizations, city agencies, library, staff, and individuals. Each partnership opportunity brings our unique strengths and experience together to create a robust program for our shared constituents. Without them, we would be hard pressed to reach the achievements we have over the past year. Read more about our partners below.

The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Culinary Literacy Center is grateful to the following for their generous support of our programs: