Seed Montessori, an after-school program, hosted its second annual Seed Café, Jan. 24, with friends and family in the Oak Park community treated to a fine dining experience, courtesy of the kids who attend the program.
Ranging in age from 5 to 10, the kids cooked a full vegetarian menu and provided Michelin-level service as they greeted and seated guests, checked coats, tended bar, waited tables and helped clean up.
"People are amazed at how collaborative and cooperative and attentive the kids are," said Seed Montessori Director Ileana Gómez. "It's a super exciting night, everyone's keyed up, and [the kids] are just determined to get their mom that really great looking plate."
The menu included bean dip, roasted vegetables in whole wheat tortillas, potato leek soup, pickled carrots with ginger and pepper, green rice with spinach, parsley and cilantro — all served with fully compostable table settings, making it a zero-waste event. For dessert, the kid chefs made apple crumble.
During meal preparation, the chefs use proper culinary terms, learning distinctions between such things as mincing and slicing, as well as a clove versus a head of garlic. Kids also learn how to safely handle food and cooking utensils.
"We have gloves for them to wear while they prepare the food, hot pads, and we have adult supervision," said Gómez. "We're very careful about it and no one has ever been injured."
Sugar Beet Food Co-op partnered with Seed Montessori, providing fresh pressed juice, wine, baba ghanoush and hummus. Kids in the program often take field trips to Sugar Beet, where they learn more about eating healthily and making sustainable choices.
"It's been a lovely experience because they connect with the food and the process," said Sugar Beet Education and Outreach Coordinator Regina Milkovich. "We talk about production and origin of food, topics that are difficult and important to discuss. They take a lot of ownership."
Seed Montessori has been working with Sugar Beet for a couple of years now, becoming a great resource for the program.
"They give us educational information about shopping local, about dietary considerations, and also, of course, they make available to us a lot of healthy, organic produce and other food supplies that we use when we're cooking," said Gómez.
Nine-year-old Tys Van den Bosch acted as bar manager, pouring juice for guests.
"It's amazing because I like serving beverages to people," he said.
Despite his young age, Van den Bosch has plenty of experience slinging drinks.
"Every night I usually serve my dad beer," he said.
But even as an old pro, Van den Bosch still picked up some new mixology tips at Seed Café night.
"I learned that you can mix two juices together," he said. "I never knew you could have them mixed together."
Van den Bosch's contributions exceeded managing the bar. He, along with the other kids, helped cook and called the food "delicious." He plans to make it at home with his parents.
"Yesterday I cooked for my sister and I made mac and cheese." His 7-year-old sister also attends Seed Montessori and helped serve beverages, like her brother.
The school is not a food preparation operation. While food does play into its programming in an educational way, the after-school program offers a wide variety of experiences for children.
"We want people to see children in their full capacity," Gómez said. "I believe we are underutilizing the skills of our youth."
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