28 Sep 2011

Watkins' Kitchen Lab Well on its Way; Kale Salad Trumps Baked Beans for Lunch

Watkins Elementary's new teaching kitchen. Photo courtesy of Avenue Design.

Sometimes it’s really nice to have cash in hand, especially if you’re a DC Public School. Thanks to a group of parents who used the site Kickstarter.com to challenge the community to raise funds to help teach better eating habits in their very own learning kitchen at Watkins Elementary School, the school will soon debut the state of the kitchen “lab” — and far more than mac and cheese and tater tots will be on the menu. Donations of $60,000 from places as close as down the block and as far away as Australia are to be thanked for putting more healthy food in growing tummies.

Many of the dollars at work are tinged with a bit of culinary celebrity. In the final days of the pledge drive, parents reached out to José Andrés, the Spanish chef who’s made his name at spots like Jaleo and Zaytinya, as well as in his own country, the inspiration for the Cooking Channel show Made in Spain.  That was a quite savvy strategic move because as soon as Andrés tweeted about the project, the funds started pouring in.  Just in time! The project was given $33,000 in the very last two days of the drive.  Had they not met the goal, donors would have been refunded their money, a practice required by Kickstarter to encourage matching grants. Two of the biggest contributors to the effort are Eric Petersen of Avenue Design, a Capitol Hill Cluster School (CHCS) parent who donated his architectural services; and Jeff Keil of Keil Construction, a former CHCS parent who has donated his expertise and construction services.

The FoodPrints program at Watkins provides first, third and fourth graders hands-on experiences with growing, harvesting, cooking and eating fresh, nutritious, in-season foods with classroom lessons that support education standards in science, social studies, math and language arts.  For the last three years the classes have been taught in a science lab, while teachers and students have dreamed of a proper kitchen.  In just a few weeks they’ll trade using hot plates, a small sink, and lots of disposable plates and utensils and begin culinary adventures in a “Food Lab.”

The Food Lab features two kid-sized hand washing sinks, a deep prep sink, full refrigerator, two ovens (think bread baking!) and lots of cabinet space. Children can safely see inside hot pots and pans and the kitchen features child height work surfaces. Grow lights that will be used for starting seedlings indoors throughout the year.  There’s even a worm composting bin that will be used to compost some of the scraps from food prep, and to teach the fourth graders about decomposition.  Fresh kale salad is a school favorite; that’s some evolution from my memories of iceberg lettuce with shredded carrots.

During the Capitol Hill Cluster Schools’ Renovator’s House Tour on October 15 kitchen prowess will be on display with cooking demos by Chef Janis McLean (11am), Melissa Jones (1pm) and Jennifer Mampara (3pm) with food donated by FRESHFARM Markets.


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