They’re part of teacher Cheri Bloom’s greenhouse class curriculum, and they’re just one of the ways Cafe Lago has teamed up with the school.
NINE FIFTH-GRADERS from Montlake Elementary School stand along the work tables in the kitchen at Cafe Lago. With varying degrees of skill and care they roll ropes of gnocchi dough, cut them into pieces, and push them across the backs of forks trying to curl and mark them the way chef Jan Norberg does it. Earlier, they pressed baked russet potatoes through a ricer to make the dough, picked basil and peeled garlic for pesto, and watched Jan season a tomato sauce.
Later, in the dining room with chef Jan, Cafe Lago owner Carla Leonardi, Montlake greenhouse teacher Cheri Bloom (no relation to the author of this story) and classroom teacher Nick Schultz, the kids dig into bowls of steaming gnocchi bathed in a bright, red sauce topped with a dollop of basil pesto and a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan. Thirty seconds later they use giant slices of warm bread to mop up every spot of sauce left in their bowls. The following day Norberg will repeat the class for another group of fifth graders, led by classroom teacher Seth Knox.
Each class visited Cafe Lago four times last semester. They learned a wide variety of skills, including simple kitchen hygiene, how to safely wield a knife, remove the center rib from hearty greens, shell peas and roll meatballs. They walked the two blocks from school and arrived excited and bubbling with energy, and they left satiated and inspired.
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The classes are part of Bloom’s greenhouse class curriculum, and they are just one of the ways Cafe Lago has teamed up with the school.
Before coming to Montlake Elementary, Bloom taught high school horticulture and owned an organic salad greens farm. When she started, the existing greenhouse was used for storage. Neighbors pitched in to help her clean it out and get the school garden going.
“It was a great opportunity for me to link my love of growing organic food and teaching,” she says. That was 14 years ago. Shortly after that, Leonardi noticed the garden on her walk to work, and she approached Bloom about buying herbs for her restaurant.
Both women are inspired by the Edible Schoolyard Project, a curriculum developed 20 years ago by celebrity chef Alice Waters and the staff at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, Calif. It uses gardens and kitchens as interactive classrooms for all academic subjects, and teaches nutrition and life skills. After many years admiring it from afar, Bloom attended the ESY Academy last summer with Montlake Elementary third-grade teachers Paula Eisenrich and Rebecca Lee.
This year, Bloom helped her students overhaul the 1,200-square-foot garden. The kids learned practical skills like how to draw to scale and manage a large project, the importance of organization, how to consider options and make thoughtful decisions.
Besides cooking experience, the kids learn about community by visiting Cafe Lago. They spend time with adults who are not teachers but from whom they can learn. Cafe Lago has been a fixture in Montlake since 1990, and Leonardi values the close-knit community. In addition to bringing kids into the kitchen, she recently held a fundraiser for the school to build a tool shed for the garden.
Three years ago, Bloom, art teacher Jennifer Lundgren and Montlake mom Sarah Gannholm organized the first Eat Real Art Walk, now an annual event held at the school. It brings together farmers, food artisans, local restaurateurs and musicians. Eat Real Art Walk links all the elements of the garden program — food, art, community and sustainability — and offers it up in festival form to the neighborhood that embraced it.