When we met the D.C.-based chef Alli Sosna back in October 2012, she was starting MicroGreens, an after-school program to teach middle school students about buying and cooking food on a budget. She saw that kids actually liked healthy fruits and vegetables, but that, at home, they didn't get much of them.
MicroGreens is wrapping up its pilot class, after it's 8-week trial run. How did it go?
Very well, says Sosna. "In 8 weeks we found kids were cooking more at home, and using their knife skills more at home. They're helping out, they're shopping more, and that's the whole point. Cooking awareness."
For the last MicroGreens class of the year, the students took part in a culinary competition. There are four stations set up in the cafeteria kitchen at Shaw Middle School, with four students and one teacher at each station. One group is slicing carrots, another butchering a whole chicken, the other searing a chicken breast, and the last, portioning off how much of each ingredient goes into one serving of chicken stir-fry. Not the portion you'd order in a restaurant; the amount you can have on food stamps.
Sewit Seyoum is methodically separating a chicken leg from the body. Seyoum is a tall, thin eighth grader, and the chef's knife is about as big as her forearm. Yet, when she's cutting, she's in complete control. "The class has been very worth my time. I've learned how to make a lot of green vegetables and how to cut a chicken. I think they've taught me a lot."
Alyse Krauss supervises the butchers in training. She's also a chef and has been volunteering to help with hands-on instruction. She has been surprised to see how enthusiastic and challenged they are by each lesson. "They surprise us with the stuff they want to know," says Krauss. "These kids love to chop carrots, will fight over who gets to chop the last carrot on the table."
Over at the searing station, Joy Hicks Parker, is standing a few feet away from her daughter Nikira, proudly watching her check her chicken for proper browning, the signal that it's time to flip. Hicks-Parker says Nikira is more helpful in the kitchen, constantly suggesting new recipes and techniques.
While Sosna is happy with the first round of MicroGreens classes, she will make adjustments based on student feedback. The class size will also go down from 16 to about 12 kids. And when the next semester of MicroGreens starts up in March, they'll go from one DCPS middle school to three. The program will also be launching in Newark, N.J. By fall 2013, Sosna expects to be in Pennsylvania and Delaware as well.
[Music: "Green Eyes (Instrumental)" by Coldplay from A Rush of Blood to the Head]