Operation Dorm to Gourm storms Dover AFB

A gourmet, state-of-the-art kitchen inside Dover Air Force Base’s Health and Wellness Center caught the attention of a Dover bakery owner. 

“What caught my eye in the first place was to see this kitchen and see it not being used,” said Dawne Nickerson-Banez, owner of Frankfurt Bakery & Deli in downtown Dover.

She went on a tour of the new gym and wellness center last October as part of DAFB’s Honorary Commander Program. The program matches up community leaders with commanders at the base; each has the opportunity to see what the other does for a living. 

During that tour, Banez cooked up an idea: “I thought, what a great idea it could be to maybe take the dorm residents and just kind of give them a little basic cooking skills.”

The base does not have funding to sponsor any kind of cooking programming for its airmen, but that didn’t matter to Banez. After getting all of the necessary approvals, she launched Operation Dorm to Gourm in April.

Now, a dozen or so students meet every two weeks to learn something new in the kitchen. Banez covers the costs for all of the ingredients.

“We have airmen on that base that are 18 and 19-years-old that literally graduated from high school, went to boot camp and don’t really have the home economic skills,” Banez said. 

So far, students have learned basic knife skills, how to spruce up jar pasta sauce and how to break down a whole chicken.

“You can go buy a chicken for $5 and get six meals out of it; chicken salad sandwich, chicken soup, grilled chicken breast, those kind of things,” Banez said. “If they plan ahead a little bit, and do a little bit of preparation, you know, it’s very easy and inexpensive to eat well.”

More than teaching service members how to cook, Operation Dorm to Gourm is one way for Banez, a U.S. Navy veteran herself, to give back. 

“The military is very special, very near and dear to my heart. My father is a Marine, so we just kind of, I always will have a soft spot for the military and I try to do whatever I can to support that effort,” Banez said.

Watch the story about Operation Dorm to Gourm tonight on First at 5:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. on WHYY-TV.


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