When Stephanie Izard, of "Top Chef" fame, hands you a plate of goat goulash sprinkled with crumbled potato chips and served over creamy, cool potato aioli, you don't ask questions. Just grab a fork and dig into the comforting deliciousness that has propelled her Girl and the Goat restaurant to the kind of frenzied popularity that has Chicagoans -- this writer included -- waiting four months for an 8 p.m. Saturday night reservation.
But glance down at Izard's 11-year-old sidekick, Marley, a no-nonsense sixth grader with tiny dreadlocks and an apron, and you can't help but ask, "What's going on here?"
Marley and Izard hooked up through Common Threads, a nonprofit organization which teaches low-income children to cook wholesome, affordable meals. Co-founded by celebrity chef Art Smith (Oprah's former chef) and currently offering programs in 16 different Chicago neighborhood locations, as well as Washington, D.C., Miami, and Los Angeles, Common Threads has a special interest in teaching kids to celebrate their cultural differences. Marley, for example, does not actually eat red meat (his parents are in the process of opening a raw vegan restaurant, B'Gabs Goodies), yet he loves working alongside Izard, Goat's reigning It Girl.
"I've wanted to be a chef since I was two years old" Marley proclaims. "Ever since I saw Emeril on TV. I worked at Girl and the Goat over the summer, plating foods. I learned how to make mango lassi [a traditional, yogurt-based Indian drink]."
Last night, the gastronomic duo paired up yet again at the sixth annual Common Threads World Festival 2011 event at Soldier Field, where 70-plus top chefs proffered mouthwatering dishes like Sous Vide Pork Belly with Blitva, Pag cheese and Paprika Sauce (Roy's), Grilled Flank Steak with Corn Succotash and Mint Chimichurri (Sable Kitchen and Bar) and Deep Fried Mochi dusted with Sesame Seeds and Sugar (Chizakaya.) As hundreds of guests, each of whom paid $250-plus (benefiting Common Threads), ambled from table to table and exchanged opinions and recommendations with each other, the event had a distinct "Top Chef" air (watching Anita Lo dish up hamachi sashimi didn't hurt). The event raised $352,000, enough to fund program expenses for nearly 23 10-week sessions of hands-on kids' cooking classes,including instruction, ingredients and supplies, volunteer recruitment, program coordination, cookbooks for the kids, and parent outreach sessions.
Guests were overheard raving about the Scallop Ceviche from Graham Elliot (with guacamole panna cotta, compressed jicama, guajillo caramel corn and mango oranges) and Cherry Kefir Panna Cotta topped with "Sweet and Sour" Cherries and Almond Oat Crumble made by Trump Hotel's Sarah Kosikowski.
But the real success can be seen in Common Threads' statistics -- the fact that they'll serve nearly 10,000 healthy, ethnically diverse meals to approximately 1,000 children in 2011, exposing them to a buffet of opportunities in the process. "Marley's always felt so honored to be a part of these events," his mom, Gabrielle Darvassy, said. "He's been exposed to a lot of other types of children, a crucial life experience that helps you learn how to work with anyone." Marley's also emerged as a kitchen leader amongst his Common Threads friends. A lifetime foodie who helped his mom develop her cult-like Marley's Love kale chips, this budding chef is slated to compete in a cooking competition later this month. That all makes sense, considering the third word he ever uttered, behind "Ma" and "Dada," was "Bam!"