Trips

Trip Recap 11/13:Planting the Seeds for “Grow.Cook.Dine.”

For those of you who followed our 2009 trip to the Gulf Coast, you may remember our incredible day of service in Ocean Springs, Mississippi entitled Grow.Cook.Dine. A signature “seed to plate” program developed and written by CulinaryCorps in partnership with Real Food Gulf Coast, it is a 10-week after school cooking and gardening curriculum. The hands-on cooking experience ties in the bounty of local farms, shores, and fields with the produce students can grow in their own backyard and forage from the world around them.

(Exploring new tastes and flavors with our 2009 volunteer team. Photo credit CulinaryCorps.)

During our  2009 CulinaryCorps trip, the team created a program launch to much fanfare at the Mary C O’Keefe Center for the Arts.  A crowd of over 75 third grade students came out to learn about how seeds are planted, harvested, and eaten through a series of hands-on cooking stations that followed the Grow.Cook.Dine. lesson plans. They loved it! So with the program in motion, Real Food Gulf Coast set about finding the funding to initiate the classes in neighboring coastal communities. They have been working hard since our departure to get the curriculum up and running.

(Always use the “bear claw” for safety. Photo credit CulinaryCorps.)

With our return to the area, CulinaryCorps asked if there was a need for a follow-up activity to support Grow.Cook.Dine and its development. As we learned, our timing was perfect! In 2012, Real Food Gulf Coast  is aiming to launch the program in the soon-to-be-completed Audobon Center in Moss Point, a tight-knit low-income community of approximately 12,000 residents that is at this time classified as a food desert. They asked if we could come out to help reboot the curriculum to fit their current needs as well as test the recipes and sample them to community supporters to generate funding interest. Of course, we said yes. Absolutely.

So once again, we jumped in our vans and followed the coast west to Moss Point. When we arrived at the Pascagoula Audobon Center the tall grass, perched squab, stark trees, and glistening water of the Pascagoula River were waiting for us. It was stunning.

(Blowing in the wind. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

To start the day, our team embarked on a foraging expedition with Dr. Mark LaSalle of the Pascagoula River Audobon Center. Armed with a bucket and a fish net we harvested fragrant wild bay, starchy cattails, and a huge haul of small but tasty mullet. We came away with a new perspective and a tremendous appreciation for the wild foods of the area.

(Gathering under the pecan tree. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

(Catch of the day. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

After getting our hands dirty pulling leaves and roots, we set out for the supermarket to learn what foods are available on the shelves. Our team spent the next hour studying the aisles of the town’s only grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, getting a sense of what ingredients would be available to incorporate into our recipes. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised at what we found. Whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits, and low-fat dairy were all readily available. Seems “The Pig” has more healthy potential then even some residents realized.

(Ready for “The Pig.” Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

When we returned back to the Audobon Center, Real Food Gulf Coast cooked up wonderful goat sausage sandwiches with local tomatoes as we set about testing each and every recipe in the Grow.Cook.Dine. curriculum. Homemade butter was the first team effort as we each took turns shaking the jars. It was then turned into a fragrant herbed topper for fresh popcorn as well as a simple sauce for pan-fried chicken with spinach and black-eyed peas.

(Sauteed chicken with homemade herbed butter. Photo credit CulinaryCorps.)

The tested recipes came out looking beautiful! And tasted just as good.

(Pretty local veggies with homemade ranch dressing. Photo credit CulinaryCorps.)

Once settled around the communal table, CulinaryCorps chefs and local community members–including seafood expert and food writer Julian Blunt–embarked on a group taste test and panel discussion about the program and its recipes. Several changes were made and through our collective brainstorming, we all learned a lot about the how and why of building a hands-on cooking curriculum for kids. Plus, we got to eat really well.


(Fruit salad sundaes with a cherry on top. Photo credit CulinaryCorps.)

As one team member said this week, CulinaryCorps is about many things but fundamentally, it is about “cooking it forward.” We use our skills in the kitchen and love of food to create “wow!” moments that not only provide great food but have the potential to engage, educate, and inspire. It is our hope that after we depart, the momentum we create urges others in the community to cook it forward too. From the kind messages we received from our community panel since our departure, our day at the Audobon Center with Real Food Gulf Coast did just that!

(We’ll be back! Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography)

Trip Recap 11/11 &11/12: Cooking with The Boys and Girls Club

[We would like to thank our Cooking at the Club sponsor International Flavors and Fragrances for making these two days of events possible.]

On a cold, crisp day in January of 2010, we received an email from the Boys and Girls Club Qatar Center at Pass Christian. Inside, there was an enticing request…“Could CulinaryCorps help bring their state-of-the-art kitchen to life?” It was a great question about a truly beautiful culinary space. Donated to Pass Christian by the country of Qatar after Hurricane Katrina, no expense was spared to create the teaching kitchen. Everything gleams. But yet it faced a sad reality. Despite the state-of-the-art facility, there was no cooking equipment, no programming, and therefore, no kids cooking good food.

CulinaryCorps took the challenge to change all of that.

(The “before” photo. Photo credit Boys and Girls Club of Pass Christian.)

Over the course of 9-months, a cooking class curriculum was slowly and meticulously built. CulinaryCorps Curriculum Coordinator, April Neujean, worked closely with a local community panel and our leadership team to design an 8-week after-school cooking class series entitled “Cooking at the Club.” To guide us in our development, we came up with the following mission:

“Cooking at the Club (C@C) aims to encourage the youth of the Gulf Coast to get involved in their health, their community, and their own futures by getting involved in the kitchen. We hope that the lessons learned in the C@C program (including organization, budgeting, communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and the importance of hospitality) will inspire participants to explore their creative potential behind the stove and beyond.”

 

(Our fearless leaders and community panel members, Sydney and Steve Wall, board members of the Boys & Girls Club Pass Christian. Photo credit CulinaryCorps)

The hands-on cooking classes are designed to engage students as young as fifth grade behind the stove. Instead of relying on the usual pizza, burgers, and mac ‘n’ cheese line-up, this course is a back-to-basics exploration of a variety of useful cooking techniques, a celebration of the local bounty of Mississippi, and a common-sense approach to healthy eating. It is a “whole foods” and “real recipes” approach to teaching kids to cook—no watered down “kid friendly” versions of the recipes allowed—and incorporates a local food and foodways theme each week. To bring it all home, the final class culminates in a shared dining experience with friends and family.

(Big ‘ol blues. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

But along with writing the curriculum, CulinaryCorps also made a promise to travel to Mississippi to bring the pages of “Cooking at the Club” to life.  Which means on day three we loaded up the vans and headed out with the rising sun. Our job during our two days at the club was to launch the program for students, supporters, and funders in a series of TV-show style cooking and tasting events. Our aim was two-fold. To train the instructors that will be executing the curriculum as well as pump everyone up for the program starting in January.

(A message on the coast. Photo credit CulinaryCorps.)

After an afternoon of kitchen prep, on Friday afternoon we presented a 90-minute program for over 60 VIP members of the Boys & Girls Club community including board members, media, and potential funders. (While the dish was presented on stage, the crowd would be served a tasting portion of the recipe to nosh on.)

(Soon to be soup. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

The most fun part was that we assigned the students taking the class in January 2012 to be our CulinaryCorps sous chefs. Donning chef hats and lots of stage presence, they helped our CulinaryCorps cooks stir, snip, and blend a selection of the dishes from the “Cooking at the Club” classes. They all really helped but the “bam!” into the show.

(Getting the sous chefs lined up and ready for the evening. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

(Our fearless kitchen leader. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

Among the many healthful recipes made and sampled, there were clear favorites of the crowd…a whole grain pasta with Gulf shrimp and zucchini, Mississippi blueberry muffins made with oats, and pecan-crusted catfish tenders…baked not fried. The crowd left with full bellies and lots of excitement for the program to come.

(Mississippi Blueberry-Oat Muffins. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

One student sous chef asked for “the class to start tomorrow” while another politely requested that we move into the Boys & Girls Club. She figured with housing squared away, we could stay forever. We were touched when one adult in the audience asked if she could take the Cooking at the Club class series. (We certainly agree that parents could benefit as well.) It was equally thrilling to hear that other adults in the crowd were keen on becoming potential funders.

(Waiting in the wings. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

With our first day’s mission accomplished, day two was really just day one on steroids. More dishes! (Fruit and honey smoothies. Homemade yogurt ranch dressing). More challenging flavors! (Chicken Noodle Pho. Spinach-pesto whole-wheat pita pizzas.) And lots more audience participation since students and their families were all invited.

(Spinach Pesto power! Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

(The finished Spinach Pesto pizza on whole-wheat pitas. Mmmmmm. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

As families arrived around 5pm, Chef Minh explored a “Test Your Taste Buds” activity asking them to identify a variety of recipe ingredients through sight, touch, and taste. (Everyone had a giggle when one student said star anise looked like a starfish belly button.) As over 60 club members settled into their seats, six families were selected from the audience to come up behind the stage and help create the dishes with the CulinaryCorps chefs.

(Spice is nice. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

(Breading the catfish “fingers”. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

Once again, audience members were given a taste of all the dishes and the students weren’t shy with their opinions. “Excellent!” “Delicious!” and “Sooooooooo good!” were common, and those reactions marked a glorious change of attitude.  At the beginning of the show, eating “healthy” food elicited few “popcorn fingers” (aka: raised hands with wiggling fingers) and several muted boos. At the end of the show there was nothing but cheers. Mission accomplished.

(Family pasta fun. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

So in addition to gifting a small grant made possible by International Flavors and Fragrances for small equipment and groceries we also spent over 324 collective manpower hours developing, writing, and launching the “Cooking at the Club” curriculum. (And threw in about 60 cookbooks to get a kitchen library up and running!)

When it is all tallied, it’s about a $30,000 package that CulinaryCorps was able to donate to the club. Our largest gift to date!

By the weekend’s end, we were both proud and honored to leave the “Cooking at the Club” curriculum behind for our new friends, big and small, “down at the Club.” We thank board member Sydney Wall for enticing us with the challenge these many months ago, and look forward to hearing about your successes (and popcorn fingers) to come.

(Popcorn fingers in action. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

Trip Recap 11/11: A Day with Edible Schoolyard

[This post is brought to you by our guest blogger and CulinaryCorps team member April Neujean with pictures by Allie Carroll. Special thanks to Whole Foods Market Louisiana for making this project possible.]

(Say hello to our team!) 

A very big day for CulinaryCorps kicked off first thing in the morning at our flagship Edible Schoolyard New Orleans (ESY NOLA) site at Samuel J. Green Charter School (a signature program of FirstLine Schools).  Team CulinaryCorps led the entire seventh grade in an Iron Chef Breakfast Battle to see who’s cuisine would reign supreme.   The chairman’s choice of secret ingredient? Creole Cream Cheese!

(Game on!)

The six Iron Chef Teams consisted of five teams manned by two CulinaryCorps chefs and one team staffed by ESY chefs.  Each team was required to create one dish featuring the secret ingredient to be presented before the judges, our 7th grade teachers.

(Who knew one tiny burner could lead to something so tasty?)

All of the groups presented elegant plates, far surpassing anyone’s expectations, but at the end of the hour, the home team led by our very own ESY chefs was named the winner with a gourmet rendition of Green Eggs and Ham Tarts and Bananas Foster French Toast.  (Perhaps they had a bit of an advantage cooking with kids every day.)

(This breakfast burrito was not the winning dish. But it sure was delicious).

Next we traveled to Langston Hughes Academy (LHA) where CulinaryCorps led a “Cafeteria Bootcamp”.  This idea came about because we at ESY NOLA and FirstLine Schools have been working for the last 5 years to improve the quality and nutrition of our school food menus.  We’ve added salad bars at all FirstLine Schools, increased our whole grains and incorporated fresh fruit and vegetables into menus made from scratch every day.

(Team Squash Before. Photo credit: CulinaryCorps)

While these changes have been significant, they’ve been a challenge for our café staffs who have little to no formal cooking training and limited equipment.  The CulinaryCorps chefs were able to impart their professional wisdom to address specific cooking techniques and visual presentation.  This is key because as we all know, people eat with their eyes.  No matter what changes we make to improve our recipes, the café staffs are more than just cooks, they’re our marketers, too.  The session ended with smiles, hugs, laughter, and some much-improved dishes. Plus, one beautiful salad bar!

(Team squash after! Photo Credit: CulinaryCorps)

Believe it or not, the day was not over yet!  The chefs got back in the van and traveled to yet another ESY/FirstLine school, Dibert Community School.  Here they rolled out the 1st ever Dibert Family Food Night: The Curious Case of the Missing Pyramid.  This included a variety of hands-on cooking stations and recipes, written, designed, and executed by CulinaryCorps chefs.

(Brain Boost! station used lettuce instead of bread for their fish salad. Folks really liked the crunch.)

Christine encouraged kids and families to “think like detectives” and to solve the mystery by picking up clues at each station. (The clues were actually puzzle pieces which once assembled revealed the new USDA My Plate icon.)   To earn a puzzle piece, the students had to complete (and eat!) a recipe each station. It was an unprecedented turnout with over 150 students and their family members rotating through six hands-on cooking stations and four nutrition and gardening activities.

(Nothing like a nice local sweet potato to get kids (and parents) inspired.)

They made Sunshine Quinoa Salad (for the whole grain piece), Tuna Lettuce Wraps (protein), Rainbow Wraps with Herbed Cream Cheese (veggies), Super Smoothies (fruits), and Buttermilk Dressing with Veggie Dippers (Dairy) as well as a bonus veggie station led by ESY, Sweet Potato and Coconut soup. Students and parents alike were surprised by how much they loved the new dishes and “can I have the recipe?” was the number one question of the evening. It was clear our detectives solved the  mystery and were hungry for more.

(One very happy detective.)

November 2011 Trip: Thank You Trip Sponsors!

We could not have launched our November 2011 CulinaryCorps trip without the support of the following major sponsors:

International Flavors and Fragrances – For their incredible Cooking at the Club development sponsorship

Chefwear – For the swankiest team jackets we have ever worn!

Whole Foods Market Louisiana – For filling our carts to overflowing with great groceries for Dibert Family Food Night

The French Culinary Institute – For once again generously contributing to our culanthropy efforts

The Carroll Family – For their support from day 1 and every day thereafter…

Our thanks is deep and everlasting.

November 2011: The Trip Details

Destination: 

New Orleans, Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Dates:

November 10 – 14, 2011

Volunteer Team:

This trip is comprised of chefs from all over the nation as well as Canada. They are all professionally trained cooks and in a new program for the organization, are also all previous CulinaryCorps participants. As for current employment, some are working in restaurants, others as private chefs. Some have written cookbooks or have launched “underground restaurants” while others do food education in their own communities. Others are professional culinary instructors while one is currently cooking in the most southern cafe in the world, McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Projects:

Thursday, November 11: Edible Schoolyard New Orleans

This day is packed! We have created three separate events that will target different populations within the FirstLine charter school family.

First, we will be rocking out some amazing off-the-cuff cooking with 60 seventh grade students at Green Charter in their 5th annual Iron Chef Competition. This is a program that CulinaryCorps created for the school during our first trip in 2007! We’ll once again join in on the fun to see whose cuisine will reign supreme. And no, we do no know the secret ingredient!

In the afternoon, we will be working with the team of Firstline School cafeteria workers to help them with their ambitious transition into from-scratch cooking. Our two-hour “cafeteria training bootcamp” will focus on the the importance of presentation in the school cafeteria. Our mantra for the day is that “we eat with our eyes.” Throughout the event, we will be working side-by-side with the cafeteria employees to recreate their lunch dishes while teaching basic batch cookery processes, efficient knife skills, and creative garnishing. The end goal is to have the food looking as good as it tastes.

And finally, we head off to Dibert Elementary where we will be launching “The Curious Case of the Missing Food Pyramid” for students and their parents.  CulinaryCorps designed the 2-hour curriculum around the new USDA “My Plate” initiative and as students and parents cook their way through a series of 8 hands-on cooking stations, they will begin to solve mystery. By the end of the event, families will have been introduced to dozens of new ingredients and a handful of fast, fresh, healthy, and inexpensive recipes they can make at home.

Friday, November 11th and Saturday, November 12th: The Boys and Girls Club of The Gulf Coast

CulinaryCorps will be spending two days with the Boys and Girls Club in Pass Christian, an area of the state hard hit by both Hurricane Katrina as well as the BP spill. Over the course of this past year, CulinaryCorps has been tasked with designing and writing an 8-week after-school cooking club for the facility entitled Cooking at the Club.

During our visit we will be helping to officially launch the program. We will be spending two days with them, the first hosting a “VIP Cooking Class” that will bring the curriculum to life for a group of funders and supporters. The second day we will be the headliners for a community-wide launch event, cooking the recipes within the curriculum in a Food Network-style show then serving the finished dishes to our audience, answering questions and having fun along the way. By the end of our stay, we hope to educate over 300 community members and garner lots of great press (and student support) for the new program!

Sunday, November 13th: Real Food Gulf Coast

We will once again be working with Real Food Gulf Coast on creating a second after-school cooking program entitled Grow.Cook.Dine for the community of Moss Point. This will be a chance for us to build a program together from the ground up. We will shop, test, and discuss the recipes to be included and then sample them to a community panel made up of funders, supporters, and potential students. We will also be working with their strategic partner, The Pascagoula River Audubon Center, to learn about the wild foods available in the area. After our foraging trip in the morning, we will be turning our wild finds into working recipes for the cooking club curriculum.

Ongoing

In addition to the projects, we will also be spending time discussing the vision for the organization with our chef volunteers as well as each participant’s potential for leadership in the organization and their own communities. And as we do during all our trips, we make sure our participants learn about the local foodways so as to be voice boxes for the communities when they return home.

Give a little green. Get a little chocolate.

To help offset the costs of our November 2011 volunteer trip, we’ve set an ambitious $4,500 fundraising goal. Should you choose to make a donation, we will make the utmost effort to honor your generosity in the following ways:

  • $0 – $49: An online shout-out in our “Friends of CulinaryCorps” blog post + Entry into our praline giveaway**
  • $50 – $99: An online shout-out in our “Friends of CulinaryCorps” blog post + A personalized thank you card from a CulinaryCorps team member with their favorite trip recipe + Entry into our praline giveaway**
  • $100 – $149: An online shout-out in our “Friends of CulinaryCorps” blog post + A personalized thank you card from a CulinaryCorps team member with their favorite trip recipe + 4 LARGE chocolate-dipped Bourbon-pecan pralines* + Entry into our praline giveaway**
  • $150 – $249: An online shout-out in our “Friends of CulinaryCorps” blog post + A personalized thank you card from a CulinaryCorps team member with their favorite trip recipe + 8 LARGE chocolate-dipped Bourbon-pecan pralines* + Entry into our praline giveaway**
  • $250+: An online shout-out in our “Friends of CulinaryCorps” blog post + A personalized thank you card from a CulinaryCorps team member with their favorite trip recipe + 1 dozen LARGE chocolate-dipped Bourbon-pecan pralines* + a place in CulinaryCorps history as an official entry on our “Table of Donors” webpage + Entry into our praline giveaway**

**And, three donors will be chosen at random to receive 1 dozen chocolate-dipped Bourbon-pecan pralines**

It doesn’t get much sweeter than that!

Puerto Rico Daily Update 6: Adventures on an Edible Island

During the trip, our daily updates focused on the food we created during our week- long stay on La Isla Encanta.  A CulinaryCorps trip, however, is a two-way street allowing our volunteer chefs to share their food with the community, and the community to share their food with us.  Weaved in throughout the week are opportunities to immerse ourselves in the cuisine of the people we have come to assist, and in doing so, understand a major source of history, identity and pride.  Puerto Rico proved to be a wonderful culinary adventure all week, and we wanted to capture some of our experiences in this journal.

Descriptions and pictures after the jump:

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Puerto Rico Daily Update 5: Iniciativa Comunitaria

Today’s CulinaryCorps volunteer mission required juggling several moving parts.

First, we planned to create 150 meals for the homeless population in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Second, we aimed to connect with the Culinary Arts students at InterAmerican University, who so graciously let us crash their kitchen for the project.  These wonderful students, led by Silvio and our current volunteer Brenda, fundraised over $1,200 through on-campus bake sales and barbecues in support of this CulinaryCorps trip.

And third, we sought to teach fundamental kitchen techniques to the clients of Iniciativa Comunitaria, an expansive non-profit organization that operates over 30 programs to aid homeless, drug addicts, sex workers, and children living in violence.  Among their many programs, Iniciativa Comunitaria has established a number of half-way homes that lend services and support to individuals in need.  Although these half-way homes have been hugely helpful in many ways, they have suffered from one important drawback:  upon exiting the program, many of the individuals do not know how to cook for themselves — not even an egg!  We believed the CulinaryCorps team could help with that.

We started our day by getting to know the InterAmerican students and preparing our educational action stations.  Each station was assigned a different recipe, which would become dishes for feeding San Juan’s homeless as well as today’s volunteers.  The recipes were tailored to showcase to the Iniciativa trainees basic cooking skills such as baking, sautéing, and knife skills, all using ingredients that were affordable, accessible, and healthful.

Our menu for the day included:

  • Fresh Greens with Vinaigrette and Homemade Croutons
  • Bacon and Cheddar Cornbread with a Selection of Compound Butters
  • Tomato and Cucumber Pico de Gallo
  • White Bean and Roasted Pepper Chili
  • Oatmeal-Walnut (Whole Wheat) Chocolate Chip Cookies

After a couple of hours of setup, the participants from Iniciativa arrived and everyone got to work.  Within three hours, we had enough food to feed us heartily and plenty of servings for the Iniciativa volunteers to distribute later this evening.

As the late-afternoon sun receded behind the palms, everyone gathered around one long communal table to share a common meal.

As we ate, we reflected on a statement by of one of today’s participants, who is also the cook in the half-way home he lives in:

“You do not cook for a paycheck.  You cook for love.”

This aphorism precisely captures our sentiments about this week of culinary volunteer work.  Our experience on this beautiful island has been truly singular . . . we look forward to another fruitful CulinaryCorps trip to Puerto Rico!