Last week I volunteered, as I do every month, with Recipe for Success – a comprehensive “seed to plate” instructional program that brings gardens, cooking, nutrition education and celebrity chefs into local schools. I don’t always post about my experiences with R4S, but last week’s class was so fun I wanted to share.
Instead of meeting my assigned fourth grade class at its elementary school, as we usually do, we all gathered at t’afia, an innovative Houston restaurant which uses only local foods. T’afia is the brainchild of Monica Pope, a much-lauded chef (James Beard nominee, Top Chef Masters contestant, etc.), R4S Board Member and classroom volunteer. Our assignment was to make Monica’s Winter Vegetable Slaw which we would then enjoy along with a full meal prepared by the t’afia kitchen.
One of the things I like best about volunteering with R4S is sharing information with kids about food — exposing them to new produce and herbs, exploring new flavors and then talking about what they like and don’t like. But this time around the kids weren’t the only ones learning: I encountered a vegetable I’d never even heard of before,”wasabina,” a leafy, peppery green with a slight wasabi taste. I also learned how to properly sprout my own grains and seeds, something I’ve been interested in trying.
Back in their elementary school kitchen, the kids use plastic serrated knives for chopping. At this class, though, they were given real ceramic blades to cut up all the root vegetables and between being a former lawyer (just think of the liability!) and a nervous Jewish mother, I was not happy about this situation one bit. (I kept urging the kids, “Use your bear claw!” ”Tuck your fingers!” I’m sure they thought I was crazy.) But with the help of R4S Chef Alyssa Dole, my group did beautifully and no digits were lost in the process.
The slaw was delicious, as was the rest of the meal — gourmet sliders on soft rolls and Monica’s signature chickpea fries with spicy ketchup. And, as always, I was amazed at how receptive the kids were to trying all sorts of unfamiliar foods, even strongly flavored vegetables like the wasabina and daikon radishes, along with sprouts of all types.
Of course, not all kids are fortunate enough to have programs like Recipe for Success in their own schools, but such programs do demonstrate that giving children hands-on experience in the growing and cooking of food is invaluable. They become more open to trying new things, they acquire sorely needed nutrition education and they’re exposed to a wealth of information and experiences they would otherwise miss out on.
I’m so glad to have the chance to volunteer with this program – it’s as enjoyable for me as it is for the kids. Stay tuned for future Recipe for Success photo montages — here’s the one from last week:
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