Tuesday, April 06, 2010

2010 White House Easter Egg Roll Recap: Ready, Set, Go Play With Your Food!

White House chefs lead mini gastronomy academy for kids...lots of photos after the jump
At this year's White House Easter Egg Roll, food and health were front and center, in keeping with First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign. The Play With Your Food activity area at the Roll featured all kinds of delicious recipes created by the White House chefs, but it was also a mini gastronomic university, complete with food science experiments, serious nutrition advice, and gardening investigations that included microscopes and dissection. Yet it was all so fun and exciting that none of the child visitors realized that they were getting a critical education.

At the start of the Easter Egg Roll, President Obama and Mrs. Obama set the scene for foodie adventure and enlightenment when they gave a dramatic reading on the Storytime Stage of Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham, to a gang of excited kids. The President dubbed the book "a classic," and advised the kids to take the book's message about trying new foods to heart.

"When your parents tell you to eat your broccoli, you don't know whether you're going to like them or not. You've got to try it," President Obama said.

That's something the First Lady has been saying for months, too, as she's talked up the benefits of fresh and local foods. At the bottom of the South Lawn, where Play With Your Food was anchored against the backdrop of the newly planted Kitchen Garden, the kids had the opportunity to immediately put the Obama advice into action. The White House chefs, led by Executive Chef Cris Comerford, and a bevy of guest chefs, were demonstrating healthy recipes for all to try in the Family Farmers Market, which was six white-topped tents in a row. (Above: Comerford, center, in action. At left is assistant pastry chef Susie Morrison)

The recipes highlighted fresh produce, whole grains, and lowfat dairy, in keeping with Mrs. Obama's platform. There were fruit smoothies, and sushi that was made of fruit, too. Molecular gastronomy figured into the fruit sushi, as the visiting chefs explained how they cured the fruit with canister of gas. There was quinoa and fruit granola, berry parfaits with yogurt, pickled orange slices with brown sugar and mint, and yogurt and vegetable dips. In the afternoon, Play With Your Food seemed busier than the activity stations on the upper part of the South Lawn. The guest chefs included José Andrés, Art Smith and organic pioneer Nora Pouillon (chef bios are here). Local cooking stars Cliff Wharton, Robert Wiedmaier, Susan Limb, and Victor Albisu were also on hand. (Above: The "pickled" orange slices)

Guests asked the chefs plenty of food-related questions, but they also just wanted to say hello to the White House chefs--and shake hands and snap photos. Thanks to recent TV appearances, such as the special White House episode of Iron Chef America, and more recently The Martha Stewart Show, the White House team are bona fide stars. Comerford in particular was being treated like a celeb: Moms were holding up their babies to be photographed with her. (Above: Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, aka The Crustmaster, restocks with a child helper. He had a couple of camera crews tracking him. He also created a special Chocolate Farm tableau for the event, which was removed in early afternoon, because the day was so hot)

Chef Art Smith seemed to be having a lot of fun talking up the healthy granola, and hawking it to the gathered kids. He credits Mrs. Obama with inspiring him to lose 100 pounds, and has joined the Let's Move! campaign in a big way. He'll be offering cooking lessons to underprivileged kids through his Common Threads foundation. (Above: Smith during the Roll, with granola ingredients)

The foods the chefs were using were primarily organic, according to the White House. Whole Foods was an official sponsor of the event, in partnership with the National Parks Foundation, and one of the tents was filled with baskets laden with apples, oranges, and bananas from Whole Foods, all labeled "organic."

As they entered the tent, kids were handed little brown shopping bags and allowed to select their own fruit. It was like playing "house," except the kids were playing "farmers market." For a First Lady who hopes kids can be taught to make healthy food choices, it was the perfect piece of active play. (Above: A Roll volunteer guides a guest toward more fruit selections)

When Mrs. Obama opened the White House Farmers Market last Fall, she commented that she'd never seen so many people so excited about fruits and vegetables. Play With Your Food might've topped that, because the kids were beyond excited as they dropped fruit into their little bags.

But cooking was just half of Play With Your Food. The science of growing food was very important, too. The White House Beehive was a focus, as a crucial part of the food/gardening continuum. Charlie Brandts, White House carpenter and now Bee Keeper in Chief, had his own tented station, "Buzzing About Bees." It was positioned in front of the White House Beehive, and Brandts was joined by a posse of local bee keepers. There were charts to explain bee keeping and pollination to the kids, and protective gear on hand, to show kids the armor of bee wranglers. (Above: Brandts at his station; the White House Beehive is visible behind him, through the tree branches)

Last Fall, Mrs. Obama appeared on the 40th anniversary episode of Sesame Street, and created a garden with the furry characters and kids. At the Roll, Sesame Street sponsored a Make-Your-Own Garden table, which was set up right in front of the Kitchen Garden, and kids could re-live the First Lady's pop-culture moment and make tiny gardens to take home. They were given Sesame Street branded seeds (tomatos, sunflowers, green beans, pumpkins, peppers), a pile of soil, and little biodegradable cups.

It was really interesting to watch kids who were too young to read choose their seed packets based on which Sesame Street character was on the front: Elmo for Tomatoes, Big Bird for sunflowers, Oscar The Grouch for green beans. There were a lot of tomatoes planted, as Elmo enjoys an enduring celebrity that seems to know no bounds. (Above: A volunteer helping a guest at the gardening table, and the seeds the kids were using. The newly planted Kitchen Garden is right behind the fence)

There was more gardening and seed activity. At tables run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, kids could learn all about the growing cycle of green beans, and dissect seeds, and look at these under microscopes. Kids were given green bean seed packets to take home and plant, and a diary chart to monitor the progress of the beans. Kids could also log onto a secure website and monitor their seed growth online. Enmeshed in all the fun foodie activity was a big, big dose of science education. (Above: The green bean dissection table)

Many of the arts and crafts at the Roll were foodcentric, too. At the Eggspress Yourself station, the healthy eating theme continued. Kids could decorate some of the 19,000 hard boiled eggs that took their own star-turn at the event, and do things like make "Awards of Eggscellence," to imitate Olympic athletes. There was also a place to decorate healthy eating crowns and chefs' hats, dubbed "Healthy Food On My Mind." Kids could put stickers of healthy foods on their head gear, and tons of kids were spotted wearing these (Above: A Roller with his foodie crown).

Including food and gardening as such a big part of the Roll reinforced for visitors not only that the issues are enormously important for the First Lady and the White House, but also that these are an important part of life--and something that's deserving of big attention. Top: White House pastry assistant Chris Phillips cuts a pan of granola. Below, another view of the foodie mob scene)

by Obama Foodorama

Related: The President and First Lady welcome the crowd. The First Family Egg Rolls and then hops into the crowd to say hi. Reese Witherspoon Rolls here. New Social Secretary Julianna Smoot in action. Pastry Chef Yosses' Chocolate Farm is here. The Roll started early and went late this year.