About That Garden – Labor Day Update

Ida B. Garden, Labor Day 2014
Ida B. Garden, Labor Day 2014, with thanks to Stephen S. – and RiverDog Farm!

A beautiful Indian summer day.  Generous, neighborly friends. Digging and watering.  Our garden is taking shape thanks to many people, some of whom I haven’t even met – yet.  Thank you, friends.

We are entering into our 3rd week of school and now that the “back to school” social excitement has pretty much run its course, it is interesting to see students in class turning towards getting down to real work.  The biggest barriers many of them have are often around trust – trusting one’s self most of all, especially when you are doing something you’ve never done before.

I know how that feels when I’m in the garden. I’ve planted plants, but never seriously helped grow food before.  I’m not sure what the final results will look like, and there are many influences that I can’t foresee and that I don’t have any control over. Toto, I don’t think we’re in my familiar kitchen environment anymore.

Labor Day 2014 in the Garden
Labor Day 2014 in the Garden

Trust aside, I am also realizing that once you get started, growing food has a magnetism – you want to see how those plants are doing, which on this weekend, feels much like that wonderful feeling my great grandmother used to describe when you know there is a good book waiting for you at the end of the day.  Now I want to visit the garden to see what is waiting there too.  How lucky we are to have this luxurious chance to learn in this way, with a safety net of great farmers not far from us should our yield fall short.

Meanwhile, our class will be getting our teamwork and cooking skills together so that when this garden is producing, we will have a rare chance to harvest, cook and serve this delicious fare to ourselves and perhaps also to our Long Table Dinner guests… in about 8 weeks, I trust.

Getting To The Source

curtido jan 2013
The closest we’ve been to carrots this week: Curtido for our enchiladas.

We’ve been visiting restaurants this last week, it is something I always put aside as a special perk, until I realize how much value even the briefest time is to our students.  Both chefs, Laurence Jossell of NOPA and Alexander Ong of Betelnut, reminded us again of that word: source.  Getting the flavor right demands having a connection to the original ingredient, the source.  Even to know what a good carrot tastes like, as Laurence puts it, becomes important.  And the pairing of flavors at Alex’s restaurant obviously share that sentiment.

The flavor of an ingredient may sound trivial to some, but what we heard was the connection to that flavor.  Which made me think even more about the actual process of connecting to what we do.

So much of what we deal with in daily life is surface oriented. Getting to this text, getting to that email (or if you are an educator, there are a host of acronym-filled tasks to choose from) — real connection to our lives, drifts off.  We see this in our students when we ask them about planning for their future.  In the race to get that diploma, what happens afterwards can become a thought that easily drifts away.

What I love about our class is that our students make a connection to what it feels like to work under pressure, to accomplish a delicious achievement, to connect to a variety of new experiences using all of their senses, from their hands to their tastebuds.  They are starting to know what that kind of carrot “tastes like”,  and better yet, they can actually begin to describe it in real, working terms.  When students get to that source, that connection and value to their potential, then amazing things can happen.

Thank you Laurence and Alex for your generosity!  Time to start planning our next Long Table Dinner.

The New 13

frittata 01102013 web Counting ourselves lucky as we get to cook in our first week back, thanks to our students being ready to try completely new things to them, and keep an open mind.  Frittata over tomato sauce, salad and biscotti in the first week.  With all the dishes clean and put away before that ringing bell.

And this time,  no full class spent on measuring, no new module on the ins and outs on what it means to be a chef – BAM.  You walk in, put on a workshirt, keep your pride of work (each step of the way) and your professionalism going and it is all a piece of cake. Together we can do a lot.

And, by the way, there will be no slacking this quarter.  We will appreciate the good moments and keep our sense of kindness through our mishaps but we mean business. We are already talking about our next Long Table Dinner, about job shadows and creating some delicious food.

Look out people!  And save the date to come and enjoy our accomplishments:  Thursday March 7th.  Long Table Dinner. 6-8pm.   More Soon!  It is a New Year.

Vocabulary Test

The school year is starting in just a few days… so much to do and so little time!  But vocabulary is always in the forefront of an educator’s mind when they are getting ready to teach.

As a chef, one doesn’t think so much about vocabulary.  It is more important that you know how to warn someone you are behind them (“Behind”) or that you are about to make a loud noise (in which case you say clearly “Loud Noise,” before you bang that rolling pin on the pastry dough).  There are many times where saying less means much more.

So while “mise en place”, “blanche” and “saute” are important cooking terms & techniques, our classroom focuses more on working world vocabulary and working attributes  make for a great hunting ground.  When you work with a person who is just seeing their own potential – and its resulting accomplishment, then you watch them as they put it into words like this , it is magical.   Reason#59a why people enjoy teaching.

Then there are a few words we’ve adapted to better suit our team spirit:

Positivity:  our style of staying positive, more of a constant strength that keeps you going rather than something to rise up to or turn on or off.  It is more fun that way.

Respectual:  this version of respect seems to demand less and share more.  It’s respect and mutual blended together.  And we are in this together.

Here’s to the new school year, ready,set, go!   Please join us for our next Long Table Dinner, we are setting our sights on October 11th, and more news on that soon!


silent cheese tasting

It has been awhile since we’ve added an entry – but the subject of student drive has been popping up in discussions with teachers and industry professionals lately, particularly as we get further involved with job shadows in restaurants and hotels.  There is a lot of resiliency and activity by students in our classroom – that’s the reason many take the class – they are certainly not lazy.

Then put a student in a real restaurant kitchen, without their friends and familiar environment and these days, more often than not, they freeze up.   It is natural to be shy or nervous, but this can take on a different appearance than the jitters – it can look more like hanging back and waiting.  When most chefs see this, they take it to be a lack of initiative, or even care. What is odd is that we in education are seeing this “hang back” across the board more frequently, whether it is a continuation high school student, a comprehensive high school student, or yes, even college students.  It is not necessarily that young people don’t care, some don’t seem familiar with how to display their care. For others,  I wonder if they are numbed with over receiving information  & more ways to distract oneself in short spurts than ever before.  The problem definitely runs deeper than just learning manners.

Do you remember the first job you loved? That fire in your belly excitement?  Why don’t we see this in our students more? And what steps did we take to get enough under our belts to get into that gear?  How do you teach drive?

I try to remember back to where I got my drive.  Trying out various jobs that seemed like good fits (and often weren’t) but I was able to take away something of value from each one.  Building self value while you are finding your passion in those early jobs is in itself an important part of preparing for what happens after high school (and by the way, many high school students haven’t explored their future in terms of their passions – or can get jobs in today’s economy for that matter).

Still, many students make plans without really gathering information first, because that is what is required of them – a post secondary plan. Like a required worksheet, it gets decided without understanding the spark that should have prompted its formation. Planning your future is not a simple formula, but that is the beauty of it too.  It is not going to have all the answers, but it is all about you, it has value and you need to have a sense of yourself before you can make one.

And that is where active practice comes in.  It doesn’t matter what we are doing, many students are so hungry for activity, seeking that sense of self accomplishment again, they’ll jump into washing dishes.  They recognize that it doesn’t matter what we do (washing dishes, really???) it is that we do it the best we can, step by step, all the way through to the last step of appreciating the results that fuels their drive.   The desire to accomplish starts the drive that builds self value, the appreciation of the results cements that self value.

Maybe our earlier generations had this automatically built into our lifestyles, but that is definitely not so today for many youth.  Most of their activities are now centered around technology, where it may be easy to understand what needs to get done, but harder to feel the accomplishment from doing it.  I don’t think technology can teach drive, no matter how well structured, you have to obtain a tangible sense of self accomplishment before you can build enough self value to have your own drive.

From the inside out

wonton soup, baked lumpia, potstickers, bao

My favorite class with our students is our silent class.  Music + lots of handwork like folding = self accomplishment. Students don’t think they are going to like working without talking to each other, but after awhile, all of a sudden we are working together seamlessly.  Flow. Fully Alive.  There are many terms for this. This week in about 30 minutes per class, we folded over 400 dumplings (4 different kinds). Wow.

The bigger wow is for them is when they begin sensing that learning isn’t all about being given doses of information to digest through powerpoint presentations and lecture, from the outside in – learning happens much more quickly when it comes from the other direction -from inside the student outwards, from the inside out – and it is a lot more interesting and satisfying.

Now some people might tell you that we can’t regularly teach in this way – particularly if you have more than 8 students per adult, it is extremely difficult and requires a lot more preparation.  They might also tell you that the teenage brain doesn’t have that kind of wiring quite yet – that the synapse development, connecting our brains many file boxes, sparking the “go to” not the “receive from” is just starting to happen.  Still, I see my students being pretty resilient, and snapping to this quickly.  It could be because the desire to work and work around our common element – food – is also there. But it is clear that working in this way is a completely foreign feeling to them, and at the same time, it feels right.  95% of my students want to work silently more and build this focus and awareness.

There are other factors too. Life is hectic, noisy and distracting.  But we need to share experiences more with our students, not just talk about them to our young people and expect them to understand. We need to practice how to access this awareness and choice so that they use it to learn anything – from the inside out.

Thanksgiving Bliss

Thanksgiving Bliss = preparing and serving a Thanksgiving meal to 200 of our closest classmates and teachers, most of whom I have a feeling skipped breakfast.  But it was a special moment to watch our Culinary Arts students roll with the last minute changes and crowds of people wondering what was going to happen next. Lately I’ve been noticing this “what will happen next state” as not only the justifiable state of mind of a teenager, but also the state of mind for most of us in today’s world.  Adaptability is now more important an attribute to have under one’s belt than ever before.  Our Culinary Arts students showed how well they can adapt, and with eagerness.

Some quotes from them as they were serving:

“I want to do this for real”

“I love the smiles from people when you give them something good to eat.”

All that and more. There was a great write up in the San Francisco Chronicle about our program – THANK YOU EVERYONE who helped make that happen!  As a result, we are now getting an increased interest in our job shadowing/ internship program from restaurants, hotels and caterers, which is very exciting.  Now if only we can adapt as quickly as our students!


Folding Phyllo

I remember the second half of the 3rd quarter from last year.  The weather isn’t the only dampening thing in life, and you can sense struggle in many people’s lives.  But the students themselves stay resilient in a way too, looking for more to do.  A student quietly requested another silent class, his tone sounded like he wanted “to get things done.”   Another mentioned the bastilla we had made at the beginning of the quarter.  I love how the students really do seem to know what the next step should be.

We folded a variety of phyllo triangles:  a spanikopita filling (spinach & feta), a sweet potato samosa like filling & classic baklava “mini” triangles.  It was very satisfying to see the number of triangles that resulted.
The next day we baked them off and enjoyed our samplings, with more than enough to share.
Avglemeno Soup, Phyllo Triangles, Apple-Fennel-Radish Salad

Week 2: Let’s get chopping.

What I love about our classes is that underneath the mellow exterior, high schoolers really are active people.  And many have chosen our class because they don’t want to sit at a desk, they want to come in and work (although tasting the results is certainly an excellent secondary incentive).
But what do you do with 40 students who want to learn how to chop? Yes, onions are the classic practice chopping item, just having roughly 20 students at a time chopping onions is, well, painful.  This time we used carrots and leeks to make a super simple carrot soup to go with our North African favorite: Chicken Bastilla — and I was reminded that 25 pounds of chopped carrots does indeed make at least 4 gallons of carrot soup.  Gulp!

Then came the next question, as we were plating:  What does “garnish” mean?  So we got into garnish.

Carrot soup with chermoula, cilantro and yoghurt cream, individual bastilla pies, strawberry mango lassi.