PORT BYRON | The students entered the gymnasium and were greeted not by balls and rackets, but by food.
As the Dana L. West Junior-Senior High School class climbed onto the bleachers Monday morning, they sniffed the aromatic air and cast curious gazes at the two chefs stationed behind a colorful, vegetable-laden table.
Then, once the approximately two dozen students were seated, Robert Dell'Amore started to teach a skill not often discussed during physical education class: healthy cooking.
Mike Anderson, the Port Byron school's athletic director and assistant principal, said he was first introduced to Dell'Amore's "The Power of Food!" presentation during a recent state conference.
He quickly realized he wanted to share the culinary educator's workshop on preparing tasty, nutritious dishes with his students.
Looking at the high obesity rates among students, Anderson said March — National Nutrition Month — seemed like the perfect time to introduce Dell'Amore's program to each of Port Byron's high school and middle school students.
"I thought it'd be important to bring him into our physical education classes," Anderson said. "It's just a way to help these students take it home to their parents or themselves."
As his partner and chef, Elaine Medin, laid out the ingredients needed to teach the high school students' class, Dell'Amore explained the mission behind "The Power of Food!"
The workshop — which the pair presents to children, educators and parents — passes on nutrition skills to students of all ages looking to create healthy meals that don't neglect their taste buds.
Dell'Amore said he tailors his program to different age groups, and works hard to give students a mix of facts and hands-on experience. And to ensure students remember what they learn, "The Power of Food!" sends them home with a recipe for one of the dishes they helped make.
"We want to excite them," Dell'Amore said. "We want to motivate them and really be agents of change."
During the 40-minute-long class, the New York City-based nutritionist kept the students smiling.
Using volunteer students as sous chefs, Dell'Amore and Medin showed the class how to make a dish dubbed Dr. Dell'Amore's Krazy Kickin' Kale Salad.
As onions sizzled, Dell'Amore asked students questions and shared information about "super foods" ranging from sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms to raw garlic and kale.
"This is where the magic happens," he said as he tossed purple cabbage into a large salad bowl. "This is where the love happens."
When the salad was complete, each student grabbed a cup of the dish and tentatively sampled. And while some of the high-schoolers turned down the cabbage, others quickly downed the vegetarian mixture — and asked for second helpings.
That enthusiasm, Dell'Amore said, was exactly what he aims to spark.
"We're not in here singing or dancing about healthy food," he said. "We're here to teach."