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The Next Top Chefs

WI Staff Writer | 8/8/2012, 4:22 p.m.

"Auntie Oye has been cooking for Aaron since he was 2," she said. "I have lost 40 pounds. [Culinary Griots] helped me revamp my kitchen. We weed out the bad stuff - no more chips, soda or Kool-Aid. We have 2-4 veggies per meal and iced green tea. We have a fruit and vegetable theme each month. I have seen that when you eat well, you have more energy and you learn well."

President and CEO of Martha's Table, Lindsay Buss, recounted how Yaa Anna came to Martha's Table as a volunteer through the recommendation of a teacher at the prestigious Maret School two and a half years ago. Since then, she has prepared food, told stories and got the children moving through song-and-dance.

"She has a wonderful ability to connect and help them cross barriers," Buss said. "When kids get excited about making kale-and-banana smoothies, that influences their parents' food choices too. She really takes them on a journey to find out what they like. We are always looking for new ways to connect the children with food and have them shop themselves for what they like."

Through her work at Martha's Table, one of the many places she volunteers around the area, Yaa Anna was spotted by a member of the University of the District of Columbia's Sustainable Food program and offered her a grant. The SNAP-Ed Program, headed by Dr. Lillie Monroe-Lord works on site in the community in: D.C. Public Schools [Pre-School and Pre-K], child development centers, day care centers and senior centers. The team works with more than 126 sites, 366 classrooms and trains and supports over 400 teachers. Snap-Ed covers food safety, a focus on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat/fat-free dairy products, and emphasizes physical activity.

Although she's a familiar face around town in places like Smith Farm's Artist-in-Residence program, where she is entering her ninth year working with hospitalized cancer patients, or in the D.C. jails working with inmates, or in Patterson, Terrell, Martin Luther King or Stanton Elementary Schools, to name a few, Yaa Anna never expected the news that recently came her way.

"Since 2000 I have been writing successful grants for the Gannett Foundation [the parent company of Channel 9] every other year," said the Capitol Hill resident. "Based on what I have read in the email, participants are selected from their grantees. I was very, very surprised when I received the email. What a blessing! The luncheon was in celebration for the privilege granted Oye Palaver Hut."