Going MAD to Stay Sane & Planting Seeds for New Beginnings

Screen shot 2013-08-26 at 12.06.55 PMIt’s back to school for the youngsters, and with it a rush of new beginnings and inspiration. In Copenhagen this weekend, the third annual MAD Symposium engaged chefs, cooks and farmers in a platform for idea-sharing, collaboration and learning. A catalyst resulting in grassroots change with global purpose. You can follow along and view past videos on the MAD website and blog. Today, California chef David Kinch presented on how restaurants can set up their own farms. Bravo to the organizers for bringing important conversations to the table, stimulating our own creativity and challenging us to think differently.

Here at home, South Florida farmers are readying for the upcoming winter/spring 2014 season, and for the first time The Genuine Hospitality Group chefs are working with forager Chris Padin to identify new heirloom ingredients to grow with them.

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Summertime. And the Garden is Solarized.

IMG_0532Yesterday was a great day for solarizing.  The rain poured all morning soaking the soil, then the sun came out giving us the better part of the day to get the Phillis Wheatley Elementary Edible School Garden weeded and covered for the long hot summer. And their tasty reward for getting down and dirty in the snail, centipede and bug filled soil: the Science Club came to Harry’s Pizzeria to enjoy the last of their harvest!  Long green eggplant, Thai basil, callaloo, green zebra and other heirloom tomato varieties all topped pies that the fifth graders got to learn about making. See here for the full flickr set.  IMG_0476

BIG THANK YOU’s to Margie Pikarsky of Bee Haven Farm who has donated her time, energy and seemingly endless knowledge to the 2013-14 Phillis Wheatley Edible School Garden, as well as Nicole who came from the farm to help, Harry’s chefs Manuel Sulbaran and Steve Martin, Harry Schwartz who came to play, Phillis Wheatley Elementary Science Coach Kelly Garcia and Math Coach Myriam Ordaz, and chef Bill Telepan who helped us raise the funds for next years garden!

Have a great summer everyone!

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Our Edible Garden Grows with The Urban School Food Alliance

Just like the crawling squashes in its edible garden, our Chefs Move to Schools partner Phillis Wheatley Elementary is now a part of The Urban School Food Alliance! Miami-Dade County Public Schools this morning announced the formation of an Alliance with the school nutrition programs of  New York City, Los Angeles Unified, Chicago, Dallas and Orange County (Orlando) school districts to broaden its purchasing power to drive costs down and quality up for food and non-food supplies.  The initial goals  of the Alliance are for the district to source a higher quality cut chicken, recyclable/compostable tray, and whole grain , natural breakfast item each would purchase. We can’t be more excited about this news, as it builds on our baby steps with Phillis Wheatley’s Science Club and edible garden in a big way.   Each of the districts participating across the country will be serving a common menu on March 20: roasted chicken, brown rice and beans (black or red), broccoli, and fresh seasonal fruit. We plan on visiting cafeteria manager Ms. Theresa McKenzie with our chefs Manny and Steve from Harry’s Pizzeria and incorporating some of the school’s harvested produce into the meal.

“We went to clean the beds with volunteer garden caretaker Keith from the Love n Vegetables community farm in Little Haiti last week,” Chef’s assistant Ellie Groden explained.  “We wanted to check up on everything. The tomatoes are coming in, and they need to be trellised.  The squashes are starting to crawl out of the raised beds, and the kids were so excited to see that, and that the peppers getting so big!”

Science Coach Ms. Kelley Garcia and her 4th and 5th graders are also growing lots of herbs and unusual veggies including baby thai eggplants that look like little green lightbulbs with cool-looking stripes.  Three cheers for our kids and the new school system alliance.  We can’t be more proud!

86 Peach Salad at Phillis Wheatley Elementary Open House

Fruit and veggies, a winning combination at Phillis Wheatley for the second year in a row.

To kick things off for our second year of working with Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Overtown, Principal Catalina Flor invited us back for Open House to share information with her faculty, students and parents about their edible school garden.  We presented a $500 check to Ms. Flor and new assistant principal Yolanda Ellis, generously donated from Les Dames d’Escoffier Miami, to replant and maintain the 2011-2012 garden and help the new Science Coach, Tracie Faigenblat incorporate it into math and science curriculum.  We are assessing the state of the garden beds with gardener Maggi Pons, and will be purchasing seeds and setting a date for Planting Day soon so that the learning can begin.  This year, Michael will again work with students to create another fresh, healthy, and tasty item for the school cafeteria lunch menu, like last year’s Grilled Rosemary Chicken Salad which is now available in cafeterias throughout the school system and in fancy new healthy vending machines.  Michael will also visit the school periodically to cook and show that it is fun and easy to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into one’s daily routine!  We sampled Georgia Peach and Local Radish Salad last night, and in an hour it was all gobbled up, just like the Beet and Heirloom Tomato Salad from 2010-2011’s Open House. We had at least 15 people take recipe cards to make it at home, and also collected names and contact information from parents interested in our program by raffling off three of Michael’s cookbooks. It was great fun.  Onward and upward for this newly minted “A” grade school.  We couldn’t be more proud!

[UPDATED] In Overtown, Hard Work Makes for an “A” Grade at Phillis Wheatley Elementary School

You've come a long way baby! Teachers from Phillis Wheatley celebrate a successful 2010-2011 school year in our private dining room last month.

UPDATE: We found out late this morning that Michael was to be invited to appear at this afternoon’s “Back-to-School”  Miami-Dade Public Schools board meeting with fellow chefs Michelle Bernstein (Crumb on Parchment, Michy’s, SRA. Martinez)  and Kris Wessel (Red Light Little River) to receive special recognition from Superintendent Alberto Carvalho as he announced new products including the Chef’s Partnership for the 2011-2012 school year.  We (literally!) dropped everything to be there and thank Mr. Carvalho for his passionate support of the program (and our restaurant, which stayed open late for him last night!) Here are the photos, and a quote:

“It has been such a growth experience for the Phillis Wheatley community to have Chef Michael Schwartz on board as part of the school family. He has been able to emphasize the importance of good food and nutrition as a part of student success, and the kids are totally absorbed in watching him perform magic with basic ingredients and the produce they grow in their garden. We are eternally grateful that Michael would share his time and talent to help move our school district forward.”

– Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of Schools

On July 5, I was thrilled to receive an email from then assistant principal Yvonne Perry of Phillis Wheatley Elementary, the Overtown school Michael adopted last year as part of his commitment to the Chefs Move to Schools initiative of The White House. It went like this:

I’m sure that you have heard by now that Phillis Wheatley moved from an F to an A this school year. Thanks so much for being a part of our success. :)

Wow!  Michael and our entire staff were over the moon at this news.. And what an honor to be recognized as contributors to this once struggling school’s achievement. It was tremendously gratifying all around.

“I believe I was at school when the grades came out,” explained Ms. Perry via email.  “I was ecstatic! We knew we were probably an A because we had calculated the grade as soon as all of the scores were released, weeks before. It was good however, to see it officially in writing. It means that there is nothing the students in Overtown cannot do with the help of dedicated and committed teachers and staff.”

Ms. Perry and Principal Catalina Flor, whose vision first brought Michael to Phillis Wheatley, chose to celebrate with us; Faculty gathered at the restaurant on July 7 to  enjoy snacks, pizza from our wood burning oven, and, of course, champagne.

As Back-to-School time quickly approaches, we are inspired to work even harder in our role to excite students to more healthy eating habits, continuing to affect real change in the cafeteria through the leadership of Penny Parham and the Miami-Dade Public Schools Food and Nutrition Department. The first of those changes for the 2011-2012 school year will be announced at Miami Beach Senior High School on August 19, as more than 99,000 high school students in Miami-Dade County, the fourth largest school district in the United States, will experience healthy lunches delivered in a high tech fashion when school begins on Monday, August 22.

And congratulations to Ms. Perry, who is now Principal of Kelsey Pharr Elementary. We’ll miss you, but wish you lots of luck in your new role with your new students.  They are lucky to have you!