Teacher Anthony Fuller led a group of his high school students through the gates of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and into the private dining area of FIG Restaurant. As they were sitting down, Fuller called out, "what's the first thing you do?"
"Napkins on laps..." the teens answered, rolling their eyes. But despite the smirks, these kids were happy and excited to be tasting the food of Chef Ray Garcia, who has been helping them plant a garden at Olympic High, an alternative continuation high school, since last year.
Before working in the school garden, which is affiliated with First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move Campaign, student Richard Urena admits that he had never even tried a tomato. But because of his experience planting heirloom tomatoes with his teacher and making fresh mozzarella with Chef Garcia, he says, "I had never tasted tomatoes before. But now I love them a lot... there were, like, different colored tomatoes and I didn't realize that."
Photos of the student dinner and select dishes from FIG's January farm dinner (menu PDF).
Chef Garcia had invited his new friends to last night's Farm Dinner (PDF), the 2011 kick off for his "farm-to-table dinner series." Garcia, whom Grubstreet calls an "uber-sustainable chef," is pushing the concept of the market-driven menu one step further by building a dinner menu to showcase one particular farm's offerings--and then inviting the farmers themselves to partake. More than a trend, Chef Garcia notes that for many Angelenos, the way that he cooks is just "an expectation of what they should eat--things that are in season, things that are grown locally."
Father and son duo Juan and Armando Garcia (no relation) were on the scene at FIG to represent Garcia Organic Farm, where last night's ingredients came from. The two briefly joined the high school dinner party to answer any questions the students had about their work. Juan seemed amused when he heard of the class's efforts at growing tomatoes, and encouraged them to continue exploring the industry--perhaps as a career. "Farming isn't easy, but it's good and enjoyable." Son Armando joked that their farm, located at DeLuz (north of Fallbrook), was in a "no man's land" and that "it's not Santa Monica." Still, he challenged the kids to come and visit, which prompted a few whispers of "roadtrip!"
With Farm Dinners, Chef Ray Garcia wants to honor and thank farmers like the Garcia family for the financial and physical risks they take to bring food to the table. "We wanted to give the credit back to the farm. These days there's a lot of promotion about chefs and the great things that they're doing, but none of it would be possible if we didn't have the team around us--which includes the farm." Stay tuned for news of FIG's next Farm Dinner--not just to indulge in Chef Garcia's amazing food, but to thank family farmers in person.