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ʻĀINA Chef Gets Students Excited About Cooking Close to the Source!

November 18, 2015
By: by Stephanie Loui, FoodCorps Hawaii Service Member

October was Farm to School Month and ‘ĀINA In Schools kicked off its first ʻĀINA Chef Visit of the year at Lanikai Public Charter School with private chef, Sean Congdon and his wife, Bella. Armed with boxes of Ho Farms Black Beauty eggplant, a rainbow of kale varieties, and Mediterranean spices, Congdon greeted his first class of enthusiastic 5th graders with three cooking reminders: “Safety, sanitation, and of course, fun!”

Students crowded close to inspect the vibrant produce laid out on the cafeteria tables. Samples of cumin and tahini were passed throughout the crowd for smell tests and kale varieties distributed for comparison. By the time Chef Congdon had explained the menu items, students were on their feet, vying for sous-chef positions. With jobs ranging from kale shredders, to ingredient measurers, to eggplant scoopers, volunteers treated their work with the focused determination of true professionals. Despite a few measuring mishaps and slightly over-crisp kale chips, Chef kept a cool head and a warm attitude with the students. Talking about why he enjoys chef visits, Congdon commented, “I ate so much McDonalds growing up and no one ever taught me otherwise. Getting kids to eat veggies is important to me and also more rewarding.”

Needless to say, the taste test was a hit, no French fries in sight. Munching on roasted kale chips and baba ganoush, students expressed enthusiastic appreciation as well as requests for seconds and thirds. More accustomed to kids wanting pizza and cheeseburgers, the response to kale and eggplant was overwhelmingly exciting and also, hopeful.

‘ĀINA Chef Visits have been hugely successful in bringing healthy, locally sourced food to schools. Students experience cooking from start to finish, often creating a deeper awareness of flavors and appreciation for trying new things. Furthermore, getting kids in the kitchen fosters a sense of ownership and can also be a space for health education.

At Lanikai Public Charter School, improving habits around food is nothing new. A zero waste campus, Lanikai PCS is deeply committed to creating a sustainable, healthy environment for students. This means coordinating healthy meals, sorting recycling, and composting just about anything. According to ʻĀINA Team Coordinator, Espie Chapman, Lanikai redirected 1,900 pounds of food waste in just one month. Keep up the great work!

Any teacher or parent can reach out to chefs and foodies in your neighborhood for a classroom visit. The more local, sustainable community partnerships, the better!