GrowingGreat’s Jr. Chefs Learn Garden to Table Cooking at Manhattan House

This spring, groups of Manhattan Beach students traded in their pencils and books for garden tools and aprons.

As a part of GrowingGreat’s Jr. Chef Program, fourth and fifth grade students from Manhattan Beach elementary schools learned how to grow and prepare local, seasonal foods.  GrowingGreat is a non-profit organization whose mission is “to empower every child to grow up healthy through science-based garden and nutrition education”.

The Jr. Chef Program is a partnership between garden clubs at Manhattan Beach elementary schools and Chef Diana Stavaridis of Manhattan House; she’s affectionately known as “Chef D”.  Chef D has been awarded Rising Star Chef of Los Angeles by StarChefs and appeared on several television shows including Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and as a guest judge on “The Next Food Network Star.”

During the course of the program, Chef D worked with the kids at their school gardens and then invited them to Manhattan House to prepare a seasonal dish using garden inspired ingredients.  Each school took on a nick-name for their culinary team.

I was fortunate enough to join the “Gourmet Gators” from Grand View Elementary school when they visited the restaurant in March.  They were working to prepare Capunti Pasta: a dish is composed of capunti pasta, garden peas, spring onion lemon butter, mascarpone white wine sauce, and garnished with house-made croutons, parmesan cheese shavings, and garden flowers.

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The Grandview Gator’s garden inspired dish: Capunti Pasta.

Chef D explained, “The special thing about this pasta is that the kids decided on many of the ingredients based on what they liked. Through focus groups, they were able to come together and create a dish that they could all get excited about. We just helped steer them in right direction”.

Indeed, the excitement from the kids was palpable.  Besides getting out of school, the kids were working in a celebrity chef’s restaurant cooking a dish that they came up with.  Pretty cool!

After being welcomed to the restaurant by Chef D and GrowingGreat Director of Education, Jill Coons, the children stepped outside to Manhattan House’s on-site garden.  There, they harvested plants to be used in their dish. Back inside, the kids formed into teams to create their dish from scratch.  Some hand rolled the pasta, others made the sauce, and another team worked on the garnishes.

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The kids get an introduction to the restaurant and instuctions for preparing their dish.

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Picking herbs with Chef D at Manhattan House.

During the entire session, Chef D and the Manhattan House staff were on hand to answer questions, give suggestions, and make sure the kids observed kitchen safety rules.

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The veggie prep team hard at work.

Finally, after working hard in the garden and the kitchen, the kids were able to enjoy their dish.

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The kids enjoy the fruits of their labors by sampling their dish.

To round out the experience, each school’s dish is featured on the Manhattan House menu for the entire month.  If the students come in during the month, they’re invited back into the kitchen to recreate and serve the dish for their families to experience.

During the month of May – the last month for the Jr. Chef Program before summer break – Manhattan House will be featuring Agnolotti Pasta as created by the “Robinson Roasters” of Robinson Elementary school.

It’s amazing to see GrowingGreat develop programs for kids that will benefit them for a lifetime.  And kudos to Chef D and Manhattan House for giving the Jr. Chefs an opportunity to practice what they’ve learned.

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About the Author

Michael loves grilling, rum, and has a weakness for key lime pie.

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