Oliver's Big Rig, a traveling teaching kitchen now touring the state, is anchored at Sacramento Charter High School for a four-week stint of cooking. Capital Public Radio's Elaine Corn got on board for a class that starts … in the garden.
It’s after school at Sacramento Charter High, but 16 students are staying late. They’re picking food from the garden they planted, along with Edible Sac High project manager Erika Dimmler.
"So, we’re going to actually pick this whole row of broccoli, so wherever you guys see a head of broccoli, we’re just going to take it from the base and snap it … like that," Dimmler demonstrates.
Edible Sac High is a collaboration between Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and Alice Waters of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse restaurant. The broccoli is for a special cooking class. Of course, there’s a broccoli-hater, Shania Hayes.
"I think it’s like the little things on top of it, you know how it has those little beads. I don’t know. Yeah, the texture of it in my mouth, it’s weird to me," Hayes explains.
The kids load the broccoli and lots of other winter greens into a cardboard box. Tre’von Lyle, Edible Sac High alum with serious dreadlocks, holds the box. He’s home during a break from college at NYU where he studies drama and genetics. Lyle broke ground on this garden 18 months ago.
"It’s a place that laid my foundation to go to NYU to learn how to build relationships with people," Lyle said.
But one thing is missing from this garden’s possible teaching moments – a real kitchen. That is, until a cross between a brightly painted cargo container and an RV with slideouts roared into town a few weeks ago. For the first time, the kids are going to cook the food they grew.
"Welcome to the Big Rig. I’m Matt, the tour chef. Who’s ready to cook?," says Chef Matt Harrison.
Harrison and all 16 school gardeners easily fit inside the Big Rig. The Big Rig is British chef Jamie Oliver’s traveling teaching kitchen. It’s state of the art.
"Hot water, cold water. Vents right up above us. Cooking stations, four burners, wooden cutting boards. Induction stove tops," Harrison points out the Big Rig's features.
The shaggy-haired Oliver designed the Big Rig for his foundation’s Food Revolution USA. The Big Rig is on a forty-week statewide tour of California funded by the California Endowment. And no, Jamie Oliver isn’t here. It’s Chef Matt’s job to engage the kids and administer Oliver’s credo.
"Does everyone know who Jamie Oliver is? OK, if you don’t know who he is, he’s most well-known for his first cooking show called the Naked Chef," Harrison says. "Not because he cooked naked but because he used a lot of naked ingredients. His whole philosophy in cooking is it should be fun, easy and simple."
Giggles ensue, and spoons clank.
"We’re going to make Brilliant Broccoli," Harrison easily holds the student's attention and transitions into cooking. "Who likes Brilliant Broccoli?"
Students cheer and there's more spoon clanking.
"…And let’s add some butter to this," Harrison starts the process.
The broccoli is boiled quickly in water so salty that Harrison tells the kids it should taste like the ocean. When it’s done, the water’s drained off.
"Grab some forks and I’ll let y’all try it," Harrison announces.
All eyes are on broccoli-hater, Hayes.
She breaks the broccoli in half and takes a bite...
"That's pretty good," she admits.
This broccoli is 1 hour old, so it’s sweet with no bitterness. Plus, there’s that pat of butter –delicious so kids will eat it, but without jeopardizing anyone’s health. For student Krystion Thomas, the vegetables he grew are now more than just plants.
"It’s amazing, that, like, we grew it in the garden," Thomas says. "It took a few months. And then, now, it went from the ground to our stomachs."
By the time the Big Rig tour ends in May in San Diego, nearly 6,000 students will have cooked on-board. Whether funds become available for cooking labs at Edible Sac High is anyone’s guess. But for the four weeks Jamie Oliver’s Big Rig is parked at Sac High, it will have finished the circle, showing kids how food makes the journey from garden to gut.