First Graders Don’t Care about Michelin Stars
By Jaime Lockwood, Development Director
Chefs have played a significant role in the farm to school movement since Alice Waters started the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley. And as the movement has grown, so has their impact. From Tom Colicchio testifying in Congress for improved child nutrition standards to the Chef Action Network Boot Camp for Policy and Change, celebrity chefs across the country are activating their notoriety and influence to propel the conversation about kids and healthy food into the mainstream.
But on a recent visit to New York, I was reminded that chefs bring more than a high-profile name to this fight. At the James Beard Foundation Food Conference, I met Michael Anthony, a Chefs Boot Camp graduate and the Executive Chef and Partner at Gramercy Tavern in New York City. Upon hearing that I work for the National Farm to School Network, he excitedly shared how he and his team at Gramercy Tavern and its sister restaurants volunteer at P.S. 41 in Manhattan, teaching cooking and nutrition to first grade students.
From left to right: Chef Michael Anthony, Chef Alex Guarnaschelli and Chef Bill Telepan
(Photo courtesy of Wellness in the Schools)
Michael connected with P.S. 41 through Wellness in the Schools (WITS), an organization co-founded by Nancy Easton and Chef Bill Telepan of Telepan Restaurant to “inspire healthy eating, environmental awareness and fitness as a way of life for kids in public schools.” Since 2005, WITS has been harnessing the creativity, energy and dedication of chefs to create a huge presence in NYC public schools. Their Cooking for Kids program enlists 26 chefs to participate in cooking and nutrition education programs in schools across all five boroughs of New York City.
A few days later, I found myself at P.S. 84 Brooklyn in Williamsburg, warmly greeted by Ting Chang, a registered dietician and WITS Program Coordinator, and Chef George Weld of Egg, a tiny Williamsburg restaurant with a huge reputation. Ting explained how WITS tries to introduce chefs to schools in their own communities, helping connect local residents, schools and businesses. Chef George is not only a local business owner; he is a resident who sends his own children to P.S. 84 and is invested in ensuring children have every opportunity to access healthy food and develop knowledge around good eating habits. His business partner Evan Hanczor is a graduate of Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, and together they are striving to make a difference in their community – both with adults and the increasing number of children who live in their thriving neighborhood.
As Chef George helped students at P.S. 84 prepare a kale, apple and couscous salad, I couldn’t help but think how these 7 and 8-year-olds had no idea that he has been written up in The New York Times. But they could sense his interest in them and his enthusiasm for the fresh, healthy food they were eating, and that positive experience is what builds kids’ interest and willingness to try new foods. As busy, successful chefs step up to the proverbial plate to use their skills, creativity and passion to change the health trajectory for children across the country, I ask, if we all approached farm to school creatively, utilizing our own skills (doused with the same patience and dedication), how many more children could we impact?