For our fIFTH season, nORWOOD sCHOOL visited Top chef winner Nick elmi's acclaimed restaurant, laurel. our lunch was small and intimate and for many, their first time in a fancy restaurant. my kids embraced the opportunity and will have memories of this OCCASION for a lifetime.

I began by teaching my students about the art of the still life, starting at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with a private tour of food-themed still life masterpieces in their collection led by Curator of Education for School and Teacher Programs, Barbara Bassett. For many of my students, this was their first time visiting the museum. It was so sweet how students would look up at stare, wondering the meaning of all the big painting and seeing so much diversity of culture. Our schools are still segregated, in fact, more segregated than they were in the 1960s. Bringing my students into culture; to bring awareness and ultimate acceptance of our differences makes for better citizens and better people. We were lucky to have the photo expertise of Chris Sembrot to document our day.

 

At each restaurant, students researched, met and interviewed the chef and discussed the design and branding of his restaurant. The students, as guests of the chef, were served the chef’s signature dish for lunch, then sketched a tableau of the meal in preparation for their final artwork project. The tableaux were styled by acclaimed professional food photographer, Grace Dickerson.

Chef Nick Elmi, of the acclaimed Laurel, was simply darling with the kids. He was engaged, inviting, and warm with my students who were fidgeting in their seats. That's what is so special about this program is that my students and much of the regular public would never be in this setting. For myself and many chefs in Philly, we wanna open the door for young people and inspire them to want more from their food and know that even in a fancy place, they are welcome.

 

For five years, I have seen students gravitate towards this project with curiosity. This batch of students were interesting because they truly wanted to make "it perfect". Students were uneasy about taking creative risks, afraid of making a mistake. I felt at times like a therapist, calming the anxiety for many of them. This project brought us all so close because it gave many of them the confidence that my students are more capable than they think.

Returning to my art classroom, the children worked on their still life projects over a sixteen-week period, interpreting the masterpiece meals in acrylic paint using large photographic reproductions printed by Fresh Artists.

The Fresh Palates-to-Palettes project culminates with several activities: a gala reception, tour of the state of the art teaching kitchens and sit-down luncheon for the chefs and project donors called Le Grande Vernissage (French for “varnishing” or private preview) hosted by Chef Michael Traud at Drexel University’s new Center for Hospitality.  At that time, the students’ artwork will be displayed and each participating chef will unveil his “Le Choix du Chef” (Chef’s Choice). 

In May 2017, the four selected artists, joined by their Nick Elmi, were honored by a special cooking lesson and dinner party given by Damon Menapence of Kensington Quarters, hosted by COOK, a state-of-the-art kitchen classroom.

Dizengoff Philly  (I work there on Sundays) has committed to helping the Fresh Artists 'Palates To Palettes' project for next year. I can't wait to collaborate with them to make sure that my tiny program receives the funding it needs each year.

2017 winner of the Fresh Artists 'Palates To Palettes' program.

2017 winner of the Fresh Artists 'Palates To Palettes' program.

Most chefs don’t think of this as a chef’s job. But you should not accept things as they are. You need to ask why and you need to see how things can become greater than they are.
— Magnus Neilson, Fäviken