School Kitchen Garden


For many school-aged children, the experience of preparing a fresh meal is sadly lacking in their lives. But celebrity chef Stephanie Alexander is doing her bit to change that as she teaches a group of Melbourne students a trick or two in the kitchen. This week's To the Rescue segment transforms the students' make-do classroom kitchen into something rather more substantial.

Stephanie Alexander is renowned for her knowledge of good food. In fact, she is so passionate about it that she started a program to spread the word - to kids. And students at Collingwood College in Melbourne are the willing participants.

"For many of these kids - not just these kids - this [preparing a meal] is becoming more and more adjusted to eating food out of boxes and packets .. they are becoming more and more adjusted to eating food on their own in front of the television,"says Stephanie.

This is no ordinary cooking class. The Kitchen Garden Program also incorporates planting and growing the produce, which is novel for most students.

"They plant, they dig, they compost, they fertilise, they harvest .. Then bring the food back to the kitchen and we cook together, and we cook dishes that relate to the kitchen as much as we possibly can,"she says.

While Stephanie is happy to share her knowledge in the kitchen, she is also hoping to change some eating habits along the way.

"By having a weekly dose of really fantastic food that's fresh, yummy and picked from the garden, they'll enjoy it .. and it'll be something they look for themselves,"she says.

The program is a welcome addition to the Collingwood College curriculum, according to Principal Frances Laurino.

"I think it's making students feel like this is an important project, because someone like Stephanie - who is an Australian icon - has actually said that this is a good thing to do,"she says.

While the program is just a year old, it has the full support of parents too.

"One parent was telling me that her son made sushi for a dinner party that they were having and all the guests were stunned that this little boy was making sushi for everyone,"she says.

Ask the kids, however, and there is just one small problem with the class: the kitchen is outdated and much of the equipment needs replacing. One of the stoves is particularly problematic.

"It's constantly breaking down, we need to get the electrician in to fix the stoves and all that - it's old, like 30 years old!"says Frances.

To replace the equipment all at once was simply out of the question for the school, as funds were not available. ACA decided to step in with the help of some major retailers who generously offered to overhaul the kitchen during the school holidays and surprise the kids.

And after just a few days .. the old kitchen is hardly recognisable.

Instead, a new, improved kitchen awaits the children on their first class of a new term. But their celebrity teacher also has no idea of what's been done to the classroom.

"I've heard there's been some changes, but they've kept all the details from me .. My goodness me, is this the same place, is this Collingwood College, is it really?"says Stephanie of the startling result.

Principal Laurino is just as thrilled with the outcome.

"They'll just have beautiful stuff to work with; they'll have proper quality ... It's just wonderful. What a good thing to happen,"says Frances.

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Fresh focus for young foodies
6 August 2002
Reporter: Ben McCormack

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