Category Archives: News

Dear Apple Cider, sorry I took you for granted

Apple cider. I took you for granted.

This week at school I handed out some local apple cider (non alcoholic of course) samples that were donated to the kitchen. Being October and all, I thought it would be a nice treat to the students. What I failed to realize was how many kids HAD NEVER HAD APPLE CIDER BEFORE! Many people, and a certain demographic, knows all about apple cider, plans trips around apple cider making and purchasing, and goes gaga over apple cider.

Apple cider, a beverage produced from apples that would not be best consumed raw, is an enjoyable drink; a drink I grew up on, seasonally of course. Many kids don’t know what apple cider is. They can tell you all 100 plus products of the CoCa Cola company but they can’t name a natural, historic, beverage that is made naturally at this time every year since the beginning of time. It’s sad. But, the apple cider glass is still have full here and so despite being shocked, we used it as a golden opportunity to talk to the students during those few breakfast meal periods about apples, seasonal produce, apple cider making, and had them try it. Did everyone like it? No. But, some did, and some walked away liking something new they had never tried before. That’s what cooking is all about, right!?

Happy fall! And happy cider drinking.


KEEP IT REAL! cook something

I need to set higher goals.

In my last post I summarized my time in school food service over the last few years and ended with a goal of meeting the First Lady.

I met her this past Saturday.

Now what?

I’ll tell you what!

Home ec.

Michelle wants to bring it back. Well, kinda sorta.

As I was preparing salad greens with Mrs. Obama at DC Central Kitchen, we spoke about (among many things in the twenty minutes I had with her) the need to educate children. Children are coming to school and being raised in an era where the common utensil is a spork, where the average lunch period is 16 minutes long, and the food is much less satisfying. We need to fix that. We need to bring back the pride associating cooking with keepin it real.

We have, in many senses, lost our way in food. We have a huge grassroots and national movement going on that has forced us to think about where our food comes from, who grew it, and how it got to us. But we now need to take that and bring it to the next step; we need to learn how to cook again. Michelle Obama could not be more right.

It’s not a lot. It’s boiling water, blanching, searing, marinating, grilling. It’s salting food, it’s making a dressing, and it’s maybe what you leave a Sunday afternoon for in your family. No one is asking anyone to be a chef. But food can and will bring people together, so why not start it on Sundays when the family is around? Why not open a cookbook or even watch the Food Network together? Cooking, after all, should be fun, not terrifying.

Let me know your thoughts on cooking with your schedule… What challenges do you face in trying to cook at home? And with your kids? What would YOU need to want to cook more??!

Michelle Obama faces the same challenges you all face when raising children to eat in order to understand the power of food, not just eating healthy. She gets that someone has to make those choices for themselves and she wants to help facilitate that connection….but I guarantee you, she wont be using the words “home economics” when she rolls out that plan.


Dirty Pop…, baby, you can’t stop

Soda was everywhere.

In my last three years working with schools I have never seen such a high rate of soda consumption until this year. And I’m not just talking about soda at lunch or in the classroom. I’m talking about kids, first grade to 8th grade, bringing in soda at 8am and drinking it with their French toast (I had a hard time giving them the syrup condiment that morning), carrying it with them through the halls, craving more of it as they drool into the faculty lounge where the soda vending machine is, and then carrying it with them through lunch, into snack, and into their supper meals that we also provide.

It’ everywhere.

And it’s not their fault. It’s not anyone’s fault but our own. As most know who read this blog, food access in this country is a sad irony of a failed destructive system we build ourselves; a system that has set us up to become obese. The kid carrying their soda bottle at 8am into the school has no where to buy juice in the morning, little money and education to know why juice would be a good investment as opposed to the 99 cent bottle of orange soda, and no one telling him different at home. Of course he gets soda and brings it to class. It’s not only cheap but will also fill him up really quickly so at least he can pay attention in the history class he has first period.

This past week the kitchen staff started asking “where”. Where are you getting this soda? Before we gave them their breakfast we wanted to know where they were getting the soda so that the cooks knew why they weren’t eating the food…. soda consumption is effecting everyone and I wanted to get my cooks involved in the talk…after all, they are spending their time making the food and if they aren’t eating it, I would want to know who’s wasting my time.

And after each student gave us an answer they got their meal. We found most were actually getting it from home, which is absolutely terrifying. Again the disconnect in food access is always food education and asking why they are stocking their homes with soda is more important than wondering why the kid brought it in now. It’s cheap.

So, the ultimate issues, as stated, is education. How do we work with families to understand the priorities of moving their income to be spent on quality rather than quantity and telling them that truly, in the end, you will save more money and be healthy? Addressing this is huge and with parents. The last thing parents want to hear is someone preaching to them about how wrong they feeding their kids. But we don’t really have a choice….our work in our kitchen at this school becomes about the parents.

On back to school night you can be sure that not only will we be talking about the food we are serving but about the importance of what the food is and why. After all, the beginning of education starts with a conversation …and I’m looking forward to it.


3rd year and the First Lady

I’m approaching my third year at DC Central Kitchen working under the Fresh Start catering umbrella arm in school food dining services. It’s been night and day in how we approach school food. Three years ago I, we, DCCK, were getting our feet wet by feeding 72 kids in a private school in North East. Year two brought us both clients in the public charter school sector and of course, the pilot program we were granted for 7 DCPS schools (these schools were the most under served in the over 100 schools that DCPS has on its roster). And now, in year three, our feet are no longer wet but rather soaking with experience, knowledge, and the tools to move into different schools to feed and also educate.

I am one of now a team of school food chefs with DCCK. Just as we have expanded our operations to develop more schools we needed more chefs to help execute them and I am honored to work with them.

This year my home base is at Walker Jones Education Campus right in the heart of the city. This school ALSO just happens to have a one-acre farm on it. But before I can use the produce that grows on the farm I have to have forms filled out signed by parents saying that their kid can eat the produce…. AND we then have to get the soil tested…makes sense and all but do you know how hard it is to get 436 waivers back? My next goal is to then figure out how much produce actually needs to be grown so that we can feed the students each their 4oz of vegetable portion as mandated for lunch by the Healthy Schools Act and national school lunch program.

You can be sure that Iron chef competitions will happen and guest chefs will visit. My goal is to try and get the First lady to visit the school and see how far we are going to get kids to understand the importance and role of food in their lives.

But then again…. when you have kids, who on the 5th day of school ask you when the salad bar starts well, that makes me think that maybe these guys already know the role of good food in their lives.


Garden Party: Annual Community Garden Day

If you have some time tomorrow (August 13th), head over to the P Street Whole Foods for the Annual Community Garden Day! The Garden Party gets underway at 10:00 AM and runs until 3:00 PM.

Washington Youth Garden, Arcadia Farm and Sustainable Agriculture, City Blossoms, The Farm at Walker Jones, Rooting DC, Department of Parks and Recreation will be on hand to share information, share the harvest, and bring the community together to share in the delights of community gardens.  You  may even hear a bit about Slow Food DC and developments with our Snail of Approval Awards!


School Year Wrap Up

My year ends in August; not December.

For folks in school food August is the time to get away for a few weeks and come back ready to hit the ground running. This year I’ll be taking some much needed family time in NJ and NYC but the reality is, I’ll be thinking about Washington and the student’s I’ll get to meet and feed next year.

For the last year I have worked mostly with two schools and consulted on a dozen or so. It’s been an amazing year of working with middle school boys, college kids, toddlers, and of course the Spanish speaking emersion high school. Many demographics, many ages, many social economic backgrounds have taught me many things about food, people, and more importantly, how communities can come together using food as a tool. Next year wont be any different….except for the fact that I’ll have a one acre farm outside my office that I can walk to, harvest, and prepare food for the school with.

This tool, having a working, growing farm on a school campus, right behind the home of the President is pretty exciting. Big things are going to happen next year and I’m exciting to work with all of the new faces. I’m excited to teach them why food is so important to your life and how it brings people together.

Vacation….how do you go on vacation when you love what you do?


The egg and the mouse

How many words can you type per minute? What about how fast can you copy and paste something into a new document? Or how about how fast you can find something on Google; like directions?….. really think about. How much do you use the computer and how long did it take you to get “up to speed”?

I ask these questions because in the last month I have been asking myself these questions. I’m in the process of teaching my sous chef how to make prep lists on an Excel sheet, how to type out the school menu of the day in a Word document, and how to do ordering with email. Said sous chef has never used a computer. He holds the mouse as if it’s a fragile egg and moves it with such attention that I find myself laughing with the whole perspective of things.

That’s my reality; teaching a 42 year old man who has never used a computer to learn how to jump into today’s chef world of emails, online ordering, Googling, excel sheet building, labor tracking, and scheduling.

Howard is going to master this; no doubt. And as he masters the computer, he is also learning that in today’s culinary world, computer skills are just as important as good knife skills. Here we come 500 words per minute…well, you know what I mean 😉


My Slow Food Weekend

Friday night I tried out a new recipe I have been holding onto, clams with bacon and potatoes braised in beer.  Dining on the porch enjoying the warmth of early summer evenings with a crisp French rośe, catching up with friends is the perfect way to unwind from the week.

Saturday morning I met with a group of about 10 to volunteer at the Neighborhood Farm Initiative. I admit I don’t often get up and out on a Saturday morning before 9am, but the bright sunny day brought an invigoration to embrace the day. The Neighborhood Farm Initiative cultivates a resourceful community of adults and teenagers working together to engage in small-scale food production in the Washington, D.C. area. In addition to the numerous educational programs they also donate the produce from the community garden to area soup kitchens and food pantries.  Hopefully, photos from our day will be posted here soon:

It was fun to meet new people, weed, prep beds and plant some summer crops like beans, tomatoes, and squash. In just a few hours we could look back over the rows and share a feeling of accomplishment and know the benefit of efforts with spread across the community. We then shared a wonderful pot luck lunch; Slow Food potlucks are always fantastic.  Favorite dishes included delicious lentils cooked with spring beets and a tasty okra salad. I am in the smaller population of people who love okra, fried, stewed, in gumbo, it’s great but this was the first time I have had it in a salad. The flavors were similar to stewed okra and tomatoes of my childhood but brighter and fresher in this form. Whoever made this if you want to share the recipe you have one happy fan.

The Food and Water Watch gave a presentation on important issues that need to be included in the Farm Bill. If you are interested in learning more about how to lend your support to protecting small farmers, visit It will take more than just voting with our forks to continue enjoying fresh local food produced in ways that are fair to both the animals, land, and people involved.

After the farm day, a friend took me on a bike ride through Rock Creek Park, our muscles stretching from the day of weeding and riding. Good thing I worked up an appetite because Sunday night capped off my Slow Food weekend in a glorious manner with an EcoFriendly Foods dinner at Dino.

Chef Dean of Dino brings his passion for locally sourced humane foods to the dinner table through his passion of food history and traditions. As each course was presented he shared the history behind it or a funny anecdote. Each course was unique and showcased the product but for me it was equally important to share the bounty with others around the table we broke bread and sipped wine and by the end of the evening all rubbed our bellies with satisfaction that comes from a slow three-and-half-hours meal.

I am grateful that I am able to participate in a variety of ways that brings meaning to what we eat and the importance of sharing that with others.

Originally posted on Taste Driven.


Fair Food for All: A How-To Guide

We’ve all heard the advice to “vote with your fork.” But there is more each of us can do to create sustainable local food systems that serve everyone—not just the wealthy.

The new book Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All by Oran Hesterman provides a roadmap for how to do your part. The book, Hesterman says, “is intended to add needed perspective and pragmatism to a shelf dominated by journalists and chefs.” While it continues the awareness-raising work jumpstarted by Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, Fair Food goes one step further by dedicating several chapters to the “how” of food system reform, including plenty of case studies of local and regional initiatives that could be replicated nationwide.

Beyond eating seasonally, visiting the farmers’ market, and planting a garden, how can you make a difference? Here are a few of Hesterman’s suggestions:

  • Organize a buying club among friends and neighbors interested in purchasing good food in bulk directly from a producer, providing economic benefits for both buyers and seller. This is a simple way to make free-range meat, wild-caught seafood, and dairy products from pastured animals more affordable.
  • Find a community kitchen (or “kitchen incubator”) in your area, or start one! A community kitchen provides commercial kitchen space to individuals or groups to produce food for sale. Some also offer new food entrepreneurs business development services, Internet access, and expert resources.
  • Volunteer to take part in a community food assessment. By talking to residents in vulnerable neighborhoods about their needs, inventorying selection at local corner stores and groceries, or noting potential places for community gardens or small farms, you can begin to transform a food desert.
  • Get a small group of parents together to talk to the school food service director at your child’s school to find out whether they have the equipment needed to consider using locally sourced food, whether they have any connections with local farmers, and if there is anything you can do to help.
  • Similarly, encourage your college campus, corporate cafeteria, local hospital or nursing home to source more of their food locally and ask how you can help them do it.
  • Find out if there is a food policy council in your state or area and, if not, contact your city council to express your interest in starting one. These bodies typically connect policymakers with concerned citizens and local experts to work on concrete issues like zoning for urban agriculture or improvement of food assistance programs.
  • If you are connected with an institution that uses public funds to procure food (such as universities, day care centers, state office cafeterias, etc.) contact them to see if they have any targets for procuring a certain percentage of their food locally. If they don’t, ask what you can do to help get a target set, whether it’s calling your state representative or contacting the governor’s office.
  • Educate yourself about the issues at stake in the 2012 Farm Bill. For instance, did you know that approximately 68% of the money allocated through the Farm Bill goes toward nutrition programs, while 12% goes toward crop subsidies? Get involved with local organizations to advocate for more equitable and environmentally sound policies.

At an event earlier this week to celebrate the book’s launch, Hesterman pointed out thatThe New York Times just printed a review of Fair Food in the business section. Why there? Because fresh, local, fair food is no longer a fringe concept. Farmers’ markets are booming across the country, CSA subscriptions are skyrocketing, and supermarkets are increasingly offering local options amidst the sea of travel-weary fruits and vegetables. Yet, to quote the book’s introduction, “while there is the beginning of a national conversation about our food system that sings the praises of backyard vegetable gardens and pricey organic produce, the people of Detroit don’t even have a supermarket.”

Even as we transform our own dinner tables, this book urges us to think bigger and do more. While the existence of a food policy council and Farm Bill advocacy can’t guarantee reform, they do demonstrate to lawmakers, businesses, and producers that people care not only about their own meals and where they come from, but are also willing to fight for others’ right to enjoy fresh, nutritious food.

This post originally appeared on