CHICO’S “CHEF RICHIE” GETS KIDS TO EAT THEIR GREENS – Story by Lorraine Dechter, News Director, Northstate Public Radio

(After this story we have posted some of Chef Richie’s favorite recipes, sun-dried tomato pizza sauce and a simple ricotta cheese)
So who is the chef that can get kids to love roasted broccoli and popcorn with raw greens? Richard Hirshen, also known as “Chef Richie,” cooked professionally in Europe for extended periods, and when in Chico, ran the kitchen at Sierra Nevada and Fredducini’s….Cafe Malvina and Karen’s. Nowadays he has a gardening and cooking program at Chico’s Sherwood Montessori public charter school. I caught up with Chef Richie on a sunny but windy February day as he was setting up a sun oven to cook some locally grown brown rice with his students.
HIRSHEN: “If you get kids involved in the process hands-on, of growing the food, harvesting the food, washing the lettuce, and cleaning everything and then prepping the food and cooking the food. If they’re involved in that process then they’re enthusiastic about anything that they’re going to eat. If they’re not eating broccoli at home they’re going to eat broccoli here because they helped cut it up and mix it up and also because we have a special way to cook it. We roast our vegetables with local olive oil and a little salt. I’ve gone outside the kitchen and said, ‘Who wants broccoli?’ and had five girls stand up screaming running to me for the broccoli.”
Chef Richie introduced me to some of his students who seem to hang around the kitchen a lot.
CRESSWELL: “I am Finn Cresswell, Sous Chef for Chef Richie – 8th grade at Sherwood Montessori”DECHTER: “What’s your job as a sous chef?”CRESSWELL: “I normally help around in the garden, come down here every day after I do my math. Help cook, help clean. Help Richie with pretty much everything.”DECHTER: What’s your favourite part about the garden”CRESSWELL: “I definitely like seeing the plants grow each day and seeing the plants blooming in the spring.”DECHTER: “And what do you like about the kitchen?”

CRESSWELL: “I definitely like the popcorn and the pizza.”

DECHTER: “What’s you’re favorite part of the garden?”

MIA CLARKE: There’s food in it and we get to eat it.”

DECHTER: “What’s your favorite recipe?”

ERNESTO BARRIGA: Popcorn!

HIRSHEN: “Why do you like the popcorn recipe so much?

BARRIGA: “ It tastes delicious, because its nutritional yeast.”

DECHTER: “You like the yeast?

BARRIGA: “Yes. I love the yeast.”

DECHTER: “How about all those dark green vegetables in it?”

BARRIGA: “Yes. I love it too.”

HIRSHEN: “He’s become a popcornista. Popcorn is a big deal here. And recently we started doing popcorn salad. Where we’ll pick some of the greens in the garden. We have about 12 things. Three kinds of arugula, two kinds of kale, two kinds of spinach, bok choi, pak choi, broccolini and broccoli rapini, Chives, chard, mustard greens. We pick a lot of those things and we triple wash them. And we have this special roll up the towel drying technique. And we’ll take those greens, tons of them. And like, maybe not 50-50, but 70 popcorn and 30% greens. We’ll mix it all together with the salt and the olive oil and the nutritional yeast and the kids eat it all.”

DECHTER: “Raw greens?”

HIRSCHEN: “Raw, Absolutely. And they love it… they go nuts!” (kids laughing)

Sherwood Montessori in Chico has a Farmers Market every other Friday at 3pm, where families can taste the kids cooking projects. And today Chef Richie and 8th grade Sous Chef Finn Cresswell will speak at the “8th annual “This Way to Sustainability Conference” on the Chico State campus. That’s this morning at 9. They will be signing their new cookbook called “GROW – COOK – EAT,” which has been nominated for a Greenie Award. It includes lots of recipes that kids love. Like broccoli latkes… and a really simply made ricotta cheese from milk, vinegar and cheesecloth or paper towels. You can find that recipe on our KCHO News Blog. I’m Lorraine Dechter.”

We’ve also included, as a special treat, Chef Richie’s recipe and the story about his infamous sun-dried tomato pizza sauce. (See recipes below).

RECIPE – SUN-DRIED TOMATO PIZZA SAUCE

HIRSHEN: “Working with Mooney Farms is great. I get to travel and have a lot of fun with those people. They have a great product too. We use their olive oil here. They’ve donated lots of it. I’m so grateful to them for helping to make these kids’ quality of life so much better because of local olive oil. I mean we don’t use butter. We only use olive oil and rice oil and lately some avocado oil. I’m learning about some of these newer products because of my work with them. Because I go to the fancy food show in San Francisco every year. And this year I’ll be doing the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas for the second year in a row. It’s so fun! I was the only guy out of 2000 vendors with a sun-dried tomato pizza sauce. So all of this boils down to, a really great community experience.”

DECHTER: “How do you make a sun-dried tomato pizza sauce?”

HIRSHEN: “You take the Mooney Farms bruschetta mix which they have made. They are the largest producers of sun-dried tomatoes in America and maybe the world. So they have all these different products. So use their bruschetta mix and we put that into their tomato-artichoke pasta sauce. This is what we did last year and made our own version of a pizza sauce. This year I think they’re actually going to do it in the laboratory. So we should be a little more evolved than we were last year but it was awesome. It was the best sauce in the whole place by far.”

RECIPE – RICOTTA CHEESE

HIRSHEN: “To make ricotta we take 8 cups of milk. 8 of those little cartons that are left over from lunch. We scald the milk. We put in a teaspoon of salt. We use kosher salt here because its a cleaner flavor. And then we put in 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar. And the curds separate from the whey. And we take the curds out with a strainer and put it into cheesecloth or even paper towels if you want to cheat and you can’t go get cheesecloth. And then immediately you have ricotta and you can eat it warm right there. Or cold later or put it on pizza. It’s a really, sort of a science experiment.”

WHAT GROUPS AND BUSINESSES DOES SHERWOOD MONTESSORI SCHOOL WORK WITH?

(When cooking brown rice)  HIRSHEN: “We use a rice mix inside from Lundberg. And we often use Masa Organics from Orland. And we try to use as many local products as we can and support local farming and they support us equally by donating sometimes and just by sharing the experience of being a team in the local locavore movement.”

90% of the garden at Sherwood Montessori public charter school was donated by Emily Kollar from Americorps “Food Corps” through CNAP (Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion). HIRSHEN: “We’ve grown all this from seed. Matt Martin of Pyramid Farms with his great carrots at the Saturday Farmers Market, has come here recently and planted with me. We got down in the dirt right there together with some kids and we planted a lot of carrots. And those are Matt Martin’s carrots. They’re Nantes variety. I just got from a friend a Scarlet Nantes packet of seeds in my pocket. The seeds are all donated. Matt donated his seeds and his time. GRUB, who we’re very closely connected too. You see those raised beds right there. They were put in by Elliot Profit of GRUB as a donation. So materials, time, the whole thing. And they’ve given us a lot of compost and supported us in many ways.” (They just planted 2000 seeds, which they do three times a year.)

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