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Nutrition, local agriculture on the menu for city students

Students from PS 282 make guacamole at Palo Santo.
Students from PS 282 make guacamole at Palo Santo.

When Jacques Gautier, chef at Park Slope’s Palo Santo restaurant, first asked students from PS 282 to name the five flavors, the first child he called on volunteered “chips.” When Gautier said that was incorrect, half the students lowered their hands.

Just weeks later, those same students could name all of the flavors — sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and even pungent — and they could also have a conversation about what fruits are in season, thanks to a 14-year-old program that each October brings professional chefs into elementary school classrooms for food appreciation classes.

The Days of Taste program, offered free to schools by the American Institute of Wine and Food, this year paired about 2,000 students at 22 city schools with 63 restaurants for a four-session course on food, nutrition, taste, cooking, and the restaurant industry.

Before the PS 282 students visited Palo Santo, Chef Jacques had taken them to a local greenmarket, where they sampled unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, and visited the school twice to teach food vocabulary and salad-making.

Yesterday, the children toured the restaurant, made fresh limeade, smashed avocados into guacamole, and molded dough into an El Salvadorean dish called papusas. Then they sat down at a table they’d set themselves and enjoyed the lunch they’d prepared.

Gautier told me Palo Santo would sign up for its third Days of Taste engagement next year. “My favorite part of my job is always teaching,” he said. “Usually, I’m teaching cooks; I don’t often get to teach kids.”

The children left the restaurant clutching postcards where they’d scribbled down the recipes for papusas and guacamole. What had they learned? “Tomatoes are fruit because they have seeds.” “You can put fruit in salad.” “Bananas aren’t in season right now.”

“My students have learned a lot about locally grown produce and the importance of eating a fresh and healthy diet,” said the children’s teacher, Gina Zimmerman. She said Days of Taste’s hands-on, experiential approach means these lessons will stay with her students for life.

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