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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

Volunteer spotlight: Viviane Cuenca

dorothy hernandez

Viviane Cuenca, a native Brazilian, had the opportunity to eat fresh fruits and vegetables as well as lots of beans and rice, the staple of her country. After moving to the U.S., she went into nutrition because it "would not only give me insight on the culinary and nutrition aspects of the U.S., as well as it would provide me with a great amount of exposure on how food is related to many medical conditions that afflict so many people in our society."

"I was always very interested in the medical field, and after moving to the U.S. I became even more aware of the relationship between nutrition and health," says Viviane, who lives in Canton with her husband. She moved to the U.S. in March 2006. She first lived in Pennsylvania. "Before coming to the U.S. I had never left my country," says Viviane. "I never thought that I would have a reason to leave Brazil until I met my husband. He is also Brazilian, but was living in the United States since he was a child. We met in Brazil when he was visiting his family and a year later we got married. Coming to the U.S. was not only a wonderful journey with my husband but also a great opportunity to meet amazing people and see the world from a different (perspective). It was very difficult in the beginning, being on a strange land, not speaking the language and having no family or friends, after all there was a language barrier. I was able to overcome the language barrier, meet really good friends through my husband and start a journey of my own."

That journey has led her to Cooking Matters. "Being a nutrition student, I wanted to practice what I have been learning in the classroom and get involved on issues pertaining to nutrition. I found Cooking Matters online when looking for some opportunity to volunteer using my nutrition background. I also strongly believe that every person has some talent that can be used to better our communities and make a difference in people’s lives."

Her first class was teaching a Cooking Matters for Adults at Friends of Parkside. "I really enjoyed our time at Friends of Parkside. We had a very participative and dynamic class with lots of people interested on the subjects presented. The moments that stick out from the class are the times when people eat the recipes that were prepared in class. This is true especially for the last day of class, when we made Hummus and Mango Salsa. These two very easy and healthy foods were a major hit in our graduation day. I was happy to see that people were enjoying the foods that were prepared with healthy ingredients in a healthy manner. I believe the recipes made the nutrition lessons more approachable to everyone in the class."

Viviane is currently a nutrition student at Wayne State University. Eventually her goal is to become a physician’s assistant. "I enjoy the medical field and I envision myself working in the community providing medical assistance. I also would love to teach people about prevention of disease through healthy lifestyles and healthy eating."

When she is not studying, she likes to spend quality time with her husband and "our two funny dogs." She also volunteers at Karmanos. She and her husband also love to travel and visit their families in Brazil. Naturally she enjoys cooking, "especially when there are family and good friends around. During this hot summer we have been eating a variety of foods that are mostly cold and easy to prepare. One of my favorites is a mix of yogurt with fresh fruits for snack or even dessert. I found this to be a good way to make my husband eat his fresh fruits. I use the recipe below, but may also throw in a banana, apples, nectarines or any other fruits."

Yogurt and Fruit Parfaits

Ingredients •3 cups vanilla nonfat yogurt •1 cup fresh strawberries •1 pint fresh blackberries, raspberries or blueberries •1 cup of granola, or walnuts

Directions Layer 1/3 cup vanilla yogurt into the bottom each of 4 tall glasses. Combine strawberries with the other berries. Alternate layers of fruit and granola with yogurt until glasses are filled to the top. Serve parfaits immediately to keep granola and/or walnuts crunchy.