Give Miami (Kale Pizza!) Day is Thursday, November 15

This time last year, Michael and Wellness in the Schools partnered with Broward County Food & Nutrition Services to introduce his Kale Pizza to the cafeteria, engaging its cooks in 10 Broward schools to train on the recipe and other new scratch-cooked dishes. With Kale Pizza set to officially launch on the line on December 3 (YES!), we are celebrating with activities to support the cause on Give Miami Day, Thursday, November 15, the largest city-wide annual day of fundraising.  Genuine Pizza will host students from McNicol Middle Magnet & STEM School in Hollywood for a pizza-making class.  Flagship Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink will also feature the Kale Pizza all day as a lunch and dinner special, with proceeds donated to Wellness in the Schools.

Chef leading a “Right on Target” cooking class last year benefitting Wellness in the Schools.

“When giving back tastes good too you know you’re doing something right and Wellness in the Schools has nailed the formula!” says Chef Schwartz. “We have so much fun working with the team locally and our Wellness in the Schools chef Leonor Azpurua. Seeing actual progress happen is not only rewarding but inspiring for me and my team at The Genuine Hospitality Group. The hard work is happening in cafeterias on a daily basis, so the little bit we can do to reach the kids by getting their hands doughy in our classroom makes it all worth it!”

Kale Pizza has been a longtime popular menu item at Harry’s Pizzeria, our original South Florida pizza joint and is now enjoyed daily at all five locations including Genuine Pizza in Aventura and Atlanta. Supporters can get involved by visiting wellnessintheschools.com where they can donate as part of Give Miami Day.

“I am blown away by the passion and dedication Chef Leonor has taken with our school and how much of an inspiration she is for the kids,” says Principal Gurreonero from McNicol Middle School. “It’s only the second year of the program, but Wellness in the Schools has earned great respect from their schools, and we’re so grateful to be involved.”

Follow along the journey behind the scenes on Instagram at @wellnessintheschools, @genuinepizza, @harryspizzeria@michaelsgenuine and @chefmschwartz, and #givemiamikalepizza.

Celebrating Food Day by Welcoming Wellness in the Schools to Miami

Some of the gang today at lunch (from left to right) Stephanie Cardelle (Four Seasons Miami), Chef Clark Bowen (Chef, db Bistro Miami) Jason Bryson (WITS School Chef and Miami Manager), Allyce Perret-Gentil (WITS School Chef and Miami Coordinator), Chef!, Nancy Easton (WITS Executive Director & Co-Founder), Laura Culbreth (WITS School Chef), and -Leonor Azpurua (WITS School Chef)

Some of the gang today at lunch (from left to right) Stephanie Cardelle (Four Seasons Miami), Chef Clark Bowen (Chef, db Bistro Miami) Jason Bryson (WITS School Chef and Miami Manager), Allyce Perret-Gentil (WITS School Chef and Miami Coordinator), Chef!, Nancy Easton (WITS Executive Director & Co-Founder), Laura Culbreth (WITS School Chef), and -Leonor Azpurua (WITS School Chef). Bill joined from NYC via Skype!

Today is Food Day, and we are excited to welcome Wellness in the Schools to Miami.  United around the conviction that healthier bodies make healthier minds and that, conversely, unhealthy school environments interfere with student health, school attendance and academic achievement, Executive Director and Co-Founder Nancy Easton is armed with a strong troop of supporters, many of them chefs.  For good reason!  Chef Bill Telepan, a champion of this nonprofit’s efforts in NYC to improve school lunch and educate kids about healthy eating, asked his friend Michael Schwartz for help in bringing this great work to South Florida.  Of course his reply was, I’m in!

Nancy in action!

Nancy in action!

About a year later, Nancy is in town giving a keynote at University of Miami this evening marking Food Day and a milestone for the organization’s arrival here.  Over lunch at Michael’s Genuine®, we met the four chefs who have been hired by WITS and trained to work on-site with cafeteria staff to prepare daily scratch-cooked meals and educate families about the importance of eating healthy food.  Across Miami-Dade and Broward County, chefs Michael, Bradley Kilgore (Alter), Aaron Brooks (Edge Steak & Bar at the Four Seasons Miami) and Clark Bowen (DB Bistro) will each visit their respective schools for special “Café Days” throughout the school year, where they can make an impact first hand with their cheffy know-how.  Think special recipe demos and tastings, dishes for school lunch menus based around fresh ingredients, farmers market visits to see first hand where food comes from, and more…  As we well know through early work with Phyllis Wheatley Elementary and Michelle Obama’s Chefs Move to Schools, the smallest things can sometimes have the biggest impact.  Michael’s school chef partner Leonore Azpurua at McNicol Middle School in South Broward pointed to recently popping into classrooms to taste basil harvested from a nearby community garden with students.  And that’s not even in the cafeteria! “The principal is very supportive, but it’s the kids that really want this,” she shared.

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Anything for the Kids: Chef Bill made sure to visit Phyllis Wheatley Elementary when he was in town for his Chef Pop Up Series dinner at Harry’s in March of 2013.  Freshly picked school garden tomatoes just taste better!

In the past eleven years, WITS has cooked over 11 million school meals and led more than 54,000 hours of play.  We had lots of questions for Nancy, as you might imagine, especially about what we can expect here in Miami.  Here’s a little taste of what’s to come!

The Genuine Kitchen:  What’s the most rewarding part of the job? Can you provide one anecdote that says it all?

Nancy Easton: I often say that I keep at this year after year because it is indeed, so rewarding. I see “victories” every day – from kids wanting seconds and thirds of kale salad to principals telling us how much our program is changing their school culture. It sounds silly, but when I walk into schools and see bags of chips and sleeves of cookies on the cafeteria floor, it just makes me so happy to see these same kids wanting more and more kale. They are hungry. They will eat what is in front of them.

A recent reward was actually from a principal. Our focus is not necessarily on the adults in our communities and we do not focus on weight or appearance, but we do hope that our work is making everyone think twice about their own health, starting with the kids. A principal recently told us that thanks to our program, she lost 30 pounds over the summer and that she has so much more energy and feels so healthy.

TGK: What gets kids to eat healthy? Describe a kid’s palate!

NE: As an educator, I always insist on pairing a very good education program with the changes we want to make. It is tough to put organic tofu in front of a kid (or anyone) without educating on the “why”. While our focus is in the kitchen and on the recess yard, we support this centerpiece with a robust educational program – from WITS Labs to WITS BITS to FIT BITS to Family Fitness Fun Nights.  I also want to make it loud and clear that most kids are very open to new discoveries (and they are hungry!).  If you continue to provide kids with delicious healthy choices, they will devour them. Do not give up. It can take persistence.

TGK:  What’s a favorite dish or ingredient that has won them over from your experience in NYC?

NE: I think at this point our vegetarian chili is our signature dish! Everyone loves it. It is served in the cafeteria regularly and we make it on our winter WITS Lab (seasonal cooking class). It is so well spiced and seasoned that the kids don;t even miss the meat. We use three different beans as our protein source. Kids also love hummus, another dish made with a bean (chickpea).

TGK:  Why Miami?

NE: The story of coming to South Florida is actually a sweet one. We obviously look for like-minded markets that are ready of change. And, in the case of South Florida, the head of a local community foundation (Melissa White) was asked by a community member help to create a healthier local school. Melissa googled and found Wellness in the Schools, an organization founded by her camp counselor (yours truly)! I guess she thought that if I could teach her how to swim and play tennis that I could possibly run a wellness organization. Melissa helped us to find 3 others schools in South Florida so that it was worth our efforts and resources to come down.

TGK:  What’s the biggest challenge entering a new market, and describe your approach

NE: We look to new markets as the building new networks – we spend a good deal of time getting to know people and learning about their needs and assets. For the work we do, and to bring about change in general, we rely heavily on the building of relationships and in the case of a new market, on the needs of that community. We are not here to say: “Here is the only way that works. Do it now.” We are here to listen to the specific needs of a community, to tap into the resources of that community (both human and otherwise) and to build relationships and trust in that community so that we can share/implement our models together. We have been incredibly fortunate to hire a staff in South Florida who are dedicated and talented and fabulous. They have learned from our team in NYC and have executed with precision and frankly, with patience. Change is happening at a pace slower than they want, but we have high standards and they are driven to meet those standards, working with local resources and local change agents.

TGK:  What is food day all about, and where does it fit in in the overall big picture of your objectives at WITS!

NE: Honestly, Food Day to me is like Women’s History Month or Black History Month. One day? One month? Food Day is very day for me but I am of course happy that we give more focus to food on this one day. The topic of “food” touches on so many charged and difficult issues – from children’s health to food insecurity to climate change. WITS comes to food day from the perspective of children’s health and specifically childhood obesity. We bring awareness about the issue through our programming and our activism/advocacy.

[UPDATED] A Little Cheffing Goes a Long Way to Feed Young Minds for Florida School Breakfast Week

Update: Chef Bradley and his fresh ricotta fruit & honey toasts were a hit with the kids! And he even melted cafeteria manager Ms. Theresa McKenzie’s heart.  A true feat!  Seriously, we love her and the whole crew at Phillis Wheatley especially Principal Caty Flor, for her unending support of our work with the kids and the cafeteria over the past two 1/2 years. Thanks also goes to Miami-Dade County Public School’s Food & Nutrition department and Helena Pernas our school liaison.  Brad got some inspiration and ideas from the kids (who even ate today’s oatmeal, with enthusiasm, thanks to his magic powers of persuasion) for what breakfast item he will create for the school system to activate with the rest of the chef partners this year…

While MGFD Miami is closed for renovations this week, we are taking some time to give back to the community and reconnect with Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Overtown, our partner for The White House’s Chefs Move to Schools initiative and Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Chef Partnership program since 2010.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Department of Food and Nutrition is celebrating Florida School Breakfast Week with Michael and its team of Chef Partners including Michelle Bernstein, Kris Wessel, Julie Frans, Doug Rodriguez, Richard Ingraham and Lorena Garcia.  Breakfast at school is a slam dunk for kids. Research links eating breakfast with better test scores, better attendance and better health. M-DCPS Celebrity Chef Partners will be out at schools supporting Florida School Breakfast Week and jump starting the District’s initiative to expand the FREE Breakfast program which is available to all M-DCPS students.

Chef Manny at Phillis Wheatley last December showing our fourth and fifth graders that “green stuff” can make plain cheese pizza even more delicious and colorful, here with kale and bok choy sauteed fresh from their school garden.

Chef de cuisine Bradley Herron is taking the lead on Team Genuine for the 2012-13 school year and will be on duty with cafeteria manager Ms. Theresa McKenzie tomorrow morning (Wednesday) serving a healthy breakfast. Many of our students get their ONLY meals in school, so it’s more important than ever to raise awareness that free school breakfast does exist for those who need it most.  Following the example of Michael and our chef at Harry’s, Manny Sulbaran, Bradley will gain insight into what works so he can come up with a fun, nutritious breakfast item of his own to integrate into the menu this year with the help of the M-DCPS Food & Nutrition Department. Breakfast tomorrow morning will include oatmeal and “Breakfast-to-Go” bags in addition to a menu from the hotline. Bradley’s also got something delicious up his sleeve he’ll be bringing with him to further help engage the kids in a dialogue on breakfast.  Can’t wait to see and taste what that is!  Pictures and notes on our experience to come… Follow along tomorrow morning at #SchoolBreakfast