The smell of oak-grilled rib eye with onions and braised okra wafted through the kitchen of La Condesa as local high school students cooked side by side the restaurant’s chefs.
Wednesday, 15 students learned to cook using their own organically grown produce as an activity for Urban Roots, a program sponsored by the nonprofit YouthLaunch. Urban Roots’ 30 students work in paid internships to farm produce and learn leadership skills. The students who cooked Wednesday served the meal made with their own produce to 37 people at an East Austin community center.
Rene Ortiz, La Condesa’s head chef, and Jessica Peterson, chef de cuisine, showed the students how to cook the meal.
“We told them the rules of the kitchen, and they had fun with it,” Peterson said. “They liked yelling in the kitchen. It’s something we take for granted. We do it everyday.”
La Condesa is a Mexican restaurant in the Warehouse District that uses farm-to-market produce. Peterson helped create the menu from the list of Urban Roots’ produce which includes zucchini, carrots and homegrown potatoes.
“I took whatever was summery — that’s something that we do at the restaurant,” Peterson said. “Our menu is very seasonal, and we tried to find something that was all their own creation.”
Casimir Bissereth, a senior at Reagan High School, spoke to the group about his experience as a student intern with Urban Roots.
“When I tell my friends that I work on a farm they look at me like I’m crazy,” Bissereth said. “But I embrace that because I know I’m doing something different. I’m impacting my community.”
Bissereth said his experience with Urban Roots changed him as a person because he appreciates food more now.
“People don’t realize it’s hard out [on the farm],” Bissereth said. “The sun is so hot sometimes. You have to be a leader and work hard so [other interns] follow behind you.”
Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez said he supports the sustainable philosophy that Urban Roots promotes when he spoke to the students about their work.
“You’re prepared, not just for growing but for the future,” Martinez said. “This really is the seed to success. We owe you all in the program gratitude, and I thank you for taking this step to being self sufficient.”
Urban Roots is partnering with four restaurants in June and July to prepare community meals, and La Condesa was the second host. Social work graduate student Max Elliott is the Urban Roots program coordinator. He said working on the farm opens youth up because it’s a private space for them to let a different side out. He coordinated the students’ efforts for presenting the meal.
“That’s the reward. It’s the culmination of hard work, of sweat, of harvesting it, of preparing it, and it’s a celebration,” Elliott said. “A lot went into that meal, and that’s what we’re celebrating.”
Printed on 6/23/2011 as: Chefs spread knowledge to students