Education / Food

Hunts Point kitchen hosts students

Ben Shanahan

Chef Cindy cooks with students at Hyde Leadership School.

California kids come to Bronx to learn about vegetables

When half the students at a California high school were left out of a spring break trip to Disneyland, their teacher decided to reward them with a trip to the Bronx.

Students from Mt. Diablo High School in Concord, California, and Hyde Charter School in Hunts Point gathered together on April 25 to share a meal and teach one another about cooking and urban farming in the culinary room of John V. Lindsay Wildcat Charter School, in the BankNote building on Lafayette Avenue.

The visiting students come from a program in the San Francisco Bay Area that focuses on teaching kids how to prepare, present and serve food. Each donned a black chef’s jacket and went to work.

“To think that we can host a sustainable hospitality program along with local public and charter schools, aligned to health wellness and nutrition with locally grown Bronx food! This is the story of the new Bronx,” enthused Stephen Ritz, the “Green Dean” of Hyde Charter School and the founder of Green Bronx Machine, a nonprofit devoted to urban farming.

Ritz teaches fourth and fifth grade students at Hyde, but regularly brings his students to JVL to utilize its kitchen and the space where its students grow vegetables. Together with teachers from JVL and California, Ritz led the students around the kitchen as they prepared a meal that included ingredients picked fresh from the greenhouse next door.

Marc Donald, the principal of JVL, is a former restaurant worker who trains his students to be ready to enter the service industries.

“We have 60 internships throughout the four boroughs–none in Staten Island right now–in television production, construction, child care and also restaurant work and food distribution,” he said.

“Our goal is to be 100% sustainable here in the school,” he said of the in-house grow room. While JVL has to import dairy, eggs and meat, Donald hopes to one day to have every vegetable the students need growing right next to the kitchen.

JVL Wildcat principal Marc Donald and students.

Donald’s concerns rub off on his students. “I’m graduating next year,” said Randy Robinson, 19. “Afterwards, I’m going to try to work in a restaurant.”

The younger students aren’t quite ready for career prep, but Ritz and his fellow teachers hope to get them in a healthy mindset.

Eva Rubinoff, a second-year counselor at Hyde, is the leader of the Slow Foods after-school club, which teaches middle school students about making healthy choices.  Rubinoff works closely with Ritz, who helps her get locally-grown food for events such as this one.

“The club is about being exposed to healthy living,” Rubinoff said. “It’s about eating different foods the kids have never tried, or didn’t know they could make in their own kitchens.”

Cindy Gershen, a teacher at Mt. Diablo, stresses the importance of healthy eating to her students. A restaurant owner and chef, Gershen teaches kids to “take care of themselves and connect with their own bodies.”

Many of her students’ parents are restaurant workers themselves, including some who are employees at her restaurant, Sunrise Bistro.

“We’ve lost the ability to feed ourselves,” Gershen said. “If we taught high school kids to cook throughout the U.S. it would be a game changer.”

Gershen first decided to bring her students to New York when a shortfall in funding caused them to be left out of a school trip to Disneyland during the school’s spring break. She had seen Ritz on a TED Talk and realized his work with students in the Bronx went hand in hand with her work in California.

Gershen’s husband is a pediatrician and New York City native who did his medical internship at Lincoln Hospital in Mott Haven.  Accompanying the class as a chaperone, he emphasized how comfortable the California students felt working in Hunts Point.

“For these kids to see other students who are, racially, from the same background as them doing the same things and cooking the same food—it makes them really comfortable,” he said.

Alexias Viera, 18, a senior at Mt. Diablo who hopes to study environmental engineering in college, was impressed with the food programs Ritz and Donald are leading in Hunts Point.

“Every time you hear about the Bronx you think of something scary,” she said. “I didn’t expect a movement like this to be happening here.”

“We are cultivating a palate and a culture that is contagious,” said Gershen.

It’s the same culture Ritz is promoting.

“If we can bring people from across the country together,” he said, “if we can break bread together, we can stop being a nation of red states and blue states and start being a nation of green states.”


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  1. Pingback: Bronx and CA students Join Forces in Kitchen - Voices of NY

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