Bill Telepan, chef at Telepan on New York's Upper West Side, dedicates his time outside the kitchen to Wellness in the Schools, an organization focused on inspiring nutritious eating and fitness in public schools across the country.
You might have seen Telepan, alongside the organization's cofounder, Nancy Easton, featured in a TV segment titled Food People on the Cooking Channel. In the minute-long bit, Telepan prepares a salad, makes a vinaigrette, and discusses with children the importance of cooking healthful foods.
"In the beginning, when you are taking away their hamburgers and their French fries, they are like, 'What's this?' and they are not really sure. But once they know how to make it and learn how to cook it, then they're like, 'Oh, I can eat this now, because I know what it is," he says.
Telepan's commitment to healthful eating and nutrition education inspired Michael Schwartz, the James Beard Award-winning chef behind Michael's Genuine Food & Drink and Harry's Pizzeria, to become involved with Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Schwartz, a longtime proponent of freshly and locally sourced ingredients, launched an edible garden at Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Overtown in 2010.
Last year, the small plots were planted with heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and sunflowers. Last week, led by members of the Genuine Hospitality Group and the school's Science Club, a group of fifth-graders harvested a bounty of fresh vegetables. Steve Martin, sous-chef at Harry's Pizzeria, visited the school during lunch the next day and prepared a salad with ingredients from the garden.
The children supplemented their pizza-day meal of coleslaw, peperoni pizza, Borden chocolate milk, and an apple with a wild arugula salad with heirloom tomatoes, kohlrabi, and red onions, all tossed with a vinaigrette. Apples from the lunch tray were julienned and mixed with the greens as well.
While Martin prepared the salad, trays were passed around the table with sliced vegetables. Much like Telepan relayed in Food People, the children put down their pizzas and eagerly sampled watermelon radishes, wild arugula, kohlrabi, and heirloom tomatoes. They remembered picking vegetables from the soil just the day before. Some thought the radishes were too peppery. Others favored the sweet heirloom tomatoes. Many added the fresh vegetables as toppings to their peperoni pizzas.
"I like the greens on my pizza," said one student. The same child then proclaimed his love for heirloom tomatoes and admitted he has dreams of one day becoming a chef.
Although they will head to middle school in the fall, the children brainstormed a list of vegetables that should be planted in the garden next year. Mushrooms, tomatoes, apples, watermelons, and "pickles or relish," they said. (Cucumbers, it is!)
On March 12, Harry's Pizzeria will host a pop-up dinner by Telepan, who will be the first chef in the restaurant's series to use local ingredients in every dish on the menu. But an additional cause is involved. Proceeds from the dinner, which costs $150 per person, will benefit Phillis Wheatley's edible garden and will be used to purchase seedlings for the 2013-14 school year.
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In the past, chefs such as Gabrielle Hamilton and Andrew Carmellini have popped up at Harry's. But Telepan's dinner isn't just about cooking for folks who can afford a $150 dinner prepared by an out-of-town toque. It's about a commitment to locally sourced produce and nutrition in public schools. And Miami definitely needs more of that.
Telepan Pizzeria will pop up at Harry's Pizzeria March 12 at 7 p.m. Purchase tickets online here.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.