Students left the warmth of the Novato training kitchen on a recent brisk morning to spend an hour in Homeward Bound’s pesticide-free vegetable garden with Dave Jordan, the organization’s green thumb. This hour outside is not a time to “smell the roses” — rather, it’s an important component of the Fresh Starts Culinary Academy’s rigorous program.
After their hour in the garden, the five students went back into the kitchen to continue preparing a delicious meal using a recipe from the girl & the fig’s Sondra Bernstein for 120 people. But there’s more to the training than putting together meals. Chef Carol Menard, director of culinary education, says the three-tier program focuses on preparing students to work in the food service industry in a number of capacities.
Chef Carol cites some of the competencies that successful students must master: adjusting recipes for 120 (or any number of people), figuring out the cost of a meal, time management in a kitchen, how to source ingredients, as well as skills to get along in a busy workplace. And, along with all that, how to plant and maintain a healthy garden. This is truly a farm-to-table program, and it requires a commitment of eight hours a day for 16 weeks.
Back in the garden, everyone follows Dave from rows of broccoli, chard and collard greens to a greenhouse full of seedlings. Dave demonstrates the task: starting a variety of lettuces by seed. As Alfonso, Matthew, Patricia, Raquel and Robinson shovel soil into their trays, he tells them, “When we do it, we gonna do it right.”
And Dave is a man of his word. Working under the tutelage of his garden guru, longtime gardening expert Bob Tanem, Dave gets input about what’s needed and how to do it, then puts it into action by planting, harvesting, and teaching others. Along with the culinary students, Dave works with myriad volunteers – Girl Scouts, corporate teams, grade-school classes and others.
The five students will be back in a week to check for sprouts; when each plant has three leaves, it’s time to transplant to a 4-inch pot, later to be planted in the neat garden rows. Eventually, Fresh Starts students will use this lettuce not only to learn useful job skills, but to provide a basic gift of food for others by making meals for Homeward Bound programs. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Homeward Bound of Marin.