Monday, September 17, 2007

Chez What?

“Please pardon the mess,” cooed a smiling Esther Cook, the “chef teacher” for the Edible Schoolyard’s kitchen. “The students just finished making ricotta cheese and pesto with a mortel and pestle." My mouth began to water as I greened with envy at the thought of middle schoolers eating so well. The last time I tried to make cheese, the highlight was me spilling boiling milk on my grandmother.

But this was no ordinary kitchen. It belonged to the world-famous chef and local food advocate Alice Waters (above) and her Chez Panisse Foundation. The foundation has two main goals: the upkeep of Edible Schoolyard programs (in both Berkeley and New Orleans) and the Lunch School Initiative (LSI). The LSI is headed up by Anne Cooper, “Renegae Lunch Lady” and it’s main goal is to introduce local and healthy food throughout the Berkeley public school system. Anne’s position as director seems to be a way for Edible Schoolyard and the Chez Panisse Foundation to have an official voice within the school administration, as Chez Panisse underwrites her governmental salary. Anne collects recipes for databases and pushes forward innovative food policy for the school system.

Food choice was the least of the unique features of the Edible Schoolyard kitchen. Along with the Tibetan prayer flags and beautiful kitchen set-ups challenging Top Chef, there were apple presses, tortilla presses, filtered water running through the taps and even genuine Vermont maple syrup [ (a gift, I’m told)!

I just about lost it. I first heard about Edible Schoolyard when I was attending the Mountain School. Alice’s daughter went a few years before and the school shares much of the same values as Edible Schoolyard. Later, while at Columbia, I joined the CU Food Sustainability Project, which was an offshoot of the Yale Food Sustainability Project, which was an offshoot of Edible Schoolyard (sort of). To actually be at the epicenter from which these ideas have radiated was super exciting, and I nearly keeled over when told volunteers would probably see Alice, since she frequents the garden (!!).

Near the end of the introduction by Anne Cooper, I looked over her shoulder to see a very important-looking quote. I thought it must be from Wendell Berry or maybe Thoreau: “It is not our abilities by which we are judged, rather our actions” –Albus Dumbledore. Classic Berkeley...

Pictures of Edible Schoolyard:

An overall shot of the garden

Aerial photo of the garden

Things growing in the garden

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