A seed planted a decade ago came to fruition Wednesday as the community gathered to open a cooking school and garden in College Park.
The Emeril Lagasse Foundation Kitchen House and Culinary Garden opened with a drum roll from students at the Orlando Junior Academy, where the nutritional learning idea began with a small garden plot.
The edible schoolyard concept blossomed into the first of its kind in the nation and the world renowned chef came to town to help cut the opening ribbon.
Lagasse, dressed in his traditional white chef shirt, told the crowd of 60 that he was on a photo shoot at Orlando’s K Restaurant when he heard about the nutritional classes at the academy.
“The next day, I watched Chef Kevin Fonzo (who owns K Restaurant) do his magic and met Brad Jones, an incredible gardener who had hardly any tools but had a lot of heart and good seeds,” Lagasse said.
Lagasse returned to New Orleans and told his foundation board members about his experience. They teamed up with the academy, which donated the land, and Florida Hospital for Children to build the $1.2 million facility across from the Seventh-Day Adventist school on East King Street.
“With hard work, dedication and the love of God, good things can happen,” Fonzo said. “No student can learn without a healthy lunch. It’s as important as reading, math and science.”
Gabriel Castro, an 8th grader at the academy, passed out roasted rosemary almonds students prepared in the kitchen. He said he’s learned to cook every type of dish but his favorites are pizza dough, pretzels and pita bread.
“It’s been easy on my mom,” said Gabriel, 14. “She likes it when I cook.”
The sprawling Kitchen House will host students, families, teachers and community members for hands-on cooking classes. Its Edible Education Experience will offer a summer cooking camp for kids that will run $350 a week, a leadership academy for teachers to learn to integrate cooking lessons into their curriculum and a three-class series called Chef Night, where chefs Sarah Cahill and Fonzo will teach cooking skills for $190.
Dr. Angela Fals, a Florida Hospital for Children pediatrician who specializes in obesity medicine, is moving her education program to the top floor of the facility.
“This gives us an opportunity to get our hands in the dirt,” said Fals, who takes off her white coat to garden with her patients. “It builds confidence and self esteem and helps kids that normally don’t eat vegetables, plant and pull them out of the ground to help change their eating habits.”
Butterflies floated through the garden as if on cue when Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told onlookers, “We’re not just the City Beautiful but the City Sustainable. We’re not the capital of Florida but the capital of collaboration, where the community has pooled its resources to make this possible.”