Friday, June 04, 2010

Michelle Obama Hosts Chefs Move To Schools Harvest & Picnic In Kitchen Garden

Like the first Spring Harvest event on June 16 of 2009, this year's included an outdoor picnic for kids who were visiting the White House as First Lady Michelle Obama's garden helpers. But there were a few significant differences...

...for 2010, Mrs. Obama was joined in the garden by visiting TV celeb chefs, including Ellie Krieger, Rachael Ray, Tom Colicchio, and Cat Cora, Jose Andres, Marcus Samuelsson, and Bill Telepan, and the cooking was done outdoors, right beside the garden. And the harvest party came on the heels of the mid-day launch event for Chefs Move To Schools, where Mrs. Obama had given a long and inspiring speech to more than 500 chefs from 37 states.

"You're all here for the same reason — because you appreciate the power that food can have in our lives," Mrs. Obama told the chefs. "And who would have thought food having power, other than just making us full? But it's got a lot of power."

This year's harvest was a full-circle mini farm-to-plate extravaganza, which reinforced the importance of knowing where food is from, and the idea that fresh and local is the healthiest option for food. And it also reinforced some of the ideas in the recently released Action Plan from the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report.

"Hope you guys are a little hungry and open-minded to trying good, new things," White House Food Initiative Coordinator Sam Kass (whom Mrs. Obama called her "partner in crime" during her remarks) told the kids, who were fourth-sixth graders from Hollin Meadows Elementary School.

One major goal of the Task Force is to get kids to dramatically increase their consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and while there was no mention of the report today, that is part of the reason for the garden's existence. Each time the First Lady hosts an event there, it calls attention to the need for far more fresh produce in kids' diets. (Above: Cat Cora picking lettuces with kids; Tom Colicchio is at right)

As of Friday morning, 990 chefs and 488 schools had signed up to be part of Chef Move to Schools, according to Kass, and that, too, will help with the goal of increased consumption of produce, as the volunteer chefs work in local schools with kids, parents, teachers, and school administrators. This will take the form of nutrition education, cooking clubs, helping in school gardens and helping school chefs, Mrs. Obama said during her launch speech. (Above: Mrs. Obama and her kid helpers, flanked by Sam Kass, with Andres at far left; Marcus Samuelsson is in the foreground behind lettuce leaves)

Mrs. Obama had an outfit change in between her speech and before starting to dig with the kids in the South Lawn dirt. She needed it; she'd been clad in a flowery silk blouse earlier.

The day was incredibly hot, about 90 degrees with high humidity, and joined by the TV celeb chefs as well as a troop of White House chefs, Mrs. Obama plucked arugula, baby spinach, broccoli, rhubarb, fennel and other vegetables.

Kass oversaw the flurry of activity, with chefs being paired with kids, and armed with knives, clippers, salad bowls and plastic tubs to gather up the veggies. (Above: Rachael Ray and her kid helpers listen as Mrs. Obama welcomes them to the garden)

It's always inspiring to see the First Lady digging in the garden, but this time it was also a fairly heroic effort, thanks to the crushingly hot weather.

It was also good evidence that working in a garden can be a major workout: Mrs. Obama, like everyone else, had to have lost absolutely pounds of weight from the physical exertion. There was one period when she was not surrounded by kids, and she went on yanking up fennel, and hoisting big clumps of it out of the ground.

There was a special outdoor washing station for the produce being harvested, overseen by White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, and his right-hand pastry chef, Susie Morrison. Yosses showd the kids how to scrub the veggies, and clip the ends off so these would be ready to be prepped for food. (Above: Yosses and the kids at work)

"Do it again at the table if it's still dirty," Yosses instructed the kids, as they trooped back and forth from the outdoor sink to a prep table set up by the edge of the garden. This year, at the Spring Planting, the garden was expanded by 500 square feet.

The visiting chefs showed the kids how to slice and dice the produce, and the kids were allowed to use knives to go at it--which they did, with big enthusiasm. (Above: Samuelsson gives a cooking lesson; Ellie Krieger is in the background)

Their healthy feast included grilled chicken salad and rhubarb strawberry crisp, and the kids dined underneath some shade trees beside the garden. (Below: Kass talks to the kids in the shade as Samuelsson, Cat Cora, and Tom Colicchio look on)
Mrs. Obama handed out hugs to the kids as soon as she arrived, explaining that she wouldn't be around when everyone was done; "They need me for something in the White House!" she said. She slipped off after the veggie pulling was done, but her presence was, all the same, deeply felt.

Photos below: Mrs. Obama pulling fennel on her own, and later, talking to reporters across the rope line, and joking about the heat.

*Related: Read Mrs. Obama's remarks at the launch of Chefs Move To Schools and watch a video here. Before the South Lawn event, the invited chefs had a policy breakfast, sponsored by Share Our Strength., at which Education Secretary Arne Duncan, chefs, and policy analysts spoke. A list of all the culinary luminaries at the launch event is here. Rachael Ray chats about Mrs. Obama here; Cat Cora in action in the garden is here; Tom Colicchio goofing around is here. During her remarks, Mrs. Obama gave Kass a special shout out. In the morning before the launch, Cora and Kass appeared on "Morning Joe"; the video is here. Food Network chef Anne Burrell was at the launch, too.

*Photos by Obama Foodorama; top photo by Lawrence Jackson/White House