Three Chef Delight at OliveWood Gardens

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I watched, camera posed as Chef Julie and her dog,  Camie (a gentle black lab) meet and greet the 3rd grade group, welcoming them into the OWG kitchen to participate in preparing a meal with three experienced chefs.

Chef Julie is telling the kids to ask for help in putting on their aprons as she hands out the aprons to this particular group of kids.   I remember hearing one little kid saying “I can put my apron on all by myself, I don’t need any help”  and Chef Julie replied,  “I know you can, but we need to learn how to ask for help as we go thru life so this is a little exercise in helping one another”.

I smiled to myself, thinking what a nice thing to teach these young kids cause I doubt any of us get thru life without asking for help at some point in time and also learning to give help to another is something that may be becoming a lost gift with our “me-centric” society.

So the kids come bouncing and laughing into the kitchen to meet the other chefs,  Chef Caron and Chef Tommy.

Brief intros are given by Chef Julie;  Chef Caron is a food writer for a variety of magazines and Chef Tommy is a life long fisherman who now sells fish commercially to local restaurants and business for healthy meals,

and me, a Photographer who loves capturing picture stories… it’s fun to watch the kids as they hear about each of us and I remember when I was a kid learning what someone did may spark ideas in my brain putting a journey into my head that just  might be something I wanted to grow up and be someday… it’s so cool  to see the little mind-wheels turning as the introductions are made and almost always someone has a question or two… they are listening, studying each of us and curious to understand or compare what they already knew,  one kid’s Dad was a fisherman… it’s so cute!

Each kid has to march by the sink to wash their hands and then around the counter to find a seat at the bar where they will be given the kitchen rules.   Once their hands are washed, they are not to continue petting Camie,  I remember one little girl being afraid of dogs and Camie is so sweet and gentle,  a trained therapy dog,  she obediently lays down once the kitchen work is started.

The little girl continued to watch Camie as if she was going to jump up from her sleep and attack her, she even asked Chef Julie if the dog would bite her and Chef Julie assured her that Camie would not.   By the end of the kitchen hour – she was hugging Camie and completely smitten by the gentleness a good dog brings to the atmosphere and attitude of the room.

The Pledge: I won’t get this exactly verbatim and I should as many times as I’ve heard it myself, but I’m busy capturing all the shinny little eager faces that I hear it in the background and haven’t committed it to my own memory… but it goes something like:   Raise your hand and repeat after me please: I solemnly  promise to raise my hand to speak and only one conversation will be going on at a time and I promise to take at least one bite of the food today before I say No Thank You I don’t like that, and I really really really mean it.. Today’s menu is fresh Garden Gazpacho and fresh shrimp.

All the kids repeat and giggle as they site the pledge….

and the kitchen work begins!  Chef Caron asked for help to chop garlic and gets the energy of the room going with enthusiasm, many of the kids had never used a chopper and Chef Caron demonstrated how you could really get rid of any anger or mad feelings by pounding on the garlic chopper,  the kids laughed and cheered as the volunteer made minced garlic pounding their tiny fist onto the chopper.

Next someone needs to shuck and cut the corn,  chop up tomatoes, peppers, onions, parsley and cilantros, squeeze limes….

one by one the ingredient was prepared by a volunteer child and they watched with wide-eyed amazement as a Garden Gazpacho came to life in minutes….

They had many questions or stories of their own to tell if they helped in their own home kitchen preparing meals.

Chef Tommy taught them how to peal and devein shrimp,  the difference between frozen and fresh,  how to smell the ocean and not fishy smell…

Thumbs up or down on the meal they prepared was amazingly positive and if someone was not so sure,  the Chefs added a squirt of lime or hot sauce and that usually did the trick.

Each group had a designated Compost Commander to help with putting the compost from today’s meal onto the OliveWood garden compost pile for use in the garden.

On this particular day,  it was the first visit to OWG from this school and the groups were divided into kitchen meal planning, garden identification of plant parts and a tour of the 116 year old Walton Home which is the OliveWood Garden House.

There were six (6) groups that would come thru the kitchen so by the end of the day, the chefs, tour guides, photographers and all general helpers were exhausted for sure.

The tour around the house was a favorite of many of the kids because the house is an old victorian style home with secret passages and stain glass windows, trees that reach beyond the upstairs windows to allow you to see the birds, flowers and the beauty of nature at it’s peak.

One of the new words they learned in the home tour was “symmetry” as the house was built with a sense of harmonious balance and proportionality, meaning that the house shape on one side or floor mirrors that of the other half or side.  The human eye naturally finds beauty and appeal in Architecture symmetry.

In addition to the design, they loved the old stairways, squeaky wooden floors,  old fireplaces in almost every room,  the old style toilets with the water tank on top and a chain pull.

Stories were told about the Walton family and how one of the sons had cancer and they grew all the fresh foods from the gardens and provided him with the healthiest of fresh foods and he is now 23 years old and living a life free of cancer.

They loved looking at the old paintings, many done by Mrs Walton and the rooms had artwork on the walls in the children’s room that displayed many of the things you would see around the house and farm.

They played the game of “I SPY” led by one of the older children, Cerise,  working at OWG for summer camp.   The younger kids were completely mesmerized by the stories of the house and Walton family.  (I used fisheye lens for interior and most of the images I left with the fisheye distortion)

Off in the gardens,  they have many new words to learn as they explore the grounds and find things they can eat from the garden.  They are taught to identify what part of the plant is edible into Roots, Stems, Leaves, Flowers, Fruits or Seeds.

As they do a sort of Easter Egg hunt for these Six elements of the plant parts they can run to a big chalk board and write the name on the board.

Lots of discussion is going on around all this and the kids are like little sponges…absorbing everything and sharing it back to their teacher and Miss Cass (me) or who ever is there at that instant.

I smiled to myself so frequently as I listened and watched.   I had a 300mm lens to get away from them and still capture moments because I found the kids are fascinated with my camera gear and want to be in the photos,  Model Releases are done in advance so they are fully aware that there may be TV crews and camera crews around and are all too eager to smile for the camera but sometimes it can create a little “ham” in the group and he/she is not paying attention. So, once I’m introduced and they know who I am,  I prefer to just become a fly on the wall and capture my moments in a more subdued or low key style, hopefully getting “real moments” as opposed to too many “overreactions or exaggerated” faces geared to the camera.

It was an EXCELLENT day and most all the kids were so interactive and eager to try everything, but there is always a few who are not as adventurous and a little bit of creative talent is needed from the Chefs and OWG volunteers.

I notice that these picky personalities are developed very early in years… we are already quite set in our ways at such an early stage of life… funny, how sometimes an experience like today can give them a new perspective and maybe change their lives in a positive way forever…. we may not always know how  we impact or influences others behavior… Role Models are very valuable!

This day was an experience I know ALL these kids will remember the rest of their lives,  it’s so unique, fun and educational and with a few little clever maneuvers the Chefs were able to develop a complete attitude adjustment turing a “no-way” into “can I have seconds” with healthy, yet yummy food experiences.

I’m so happy I grew up in the country and had all this every day but city children don’t get to see live chickens roaming around, gather eggs, pick tomatoes and eat them right then, pet a dog and dig in the dirt.

Combine that with some of the finest Chefs from San Diego that volunteer each week at OWG and you have a moment in time that Will Be Remembered the rest of their lives.. I guarantee it!

There are tons of images in the slide show (well 347) and I encourage you to watch it rather than your favorite TV show…. if it does not bring a smile to your face to see all these kids excited about learning where food comes from and how to prepare it… you are just having a bad day…

…but I bet it will still bring a chuckle or two.  Take a moment and enjoy these slices of life… it was small space and really low light and I wanted to fire for action, so I shot a very high ISO and sometimes the grain shows but just look beyond that for the beautiful moments.   it took me over 7 hours of post production just to get thru a 6 hour power shoot with dozens of kids  and many fun ones left in the folder but over all…..Priceless!

It would bring a big smile to my face if you left a nice note just letting me know if it maybe touched you in some way, or you enjoyed it….Thank you in advance!

7 responses to “Three Chef Delight at OliveWood Gardens

  1. What a beautiful photo essay. I love, love, love your pictures! Can I order some of the ones of Cerise from you? I love the one of her in the ‘secret passage’!!! You do amazing work. Thank-you for being a part of Olivewood Gardens.

  2. What a nice tribute. Thank you Cass! We love when you come to play with us!!!!
    “I promise to always and everywhere
    Take 1 BIG bite or everything
    Before I say No Thank you
    I really really really mean it.”
    By Julie Darling (-;

    • What a nice tribute. Thank you Cass! We love when you come to play with us!!!!THE PLEDGE I psirome to always and everywhereTake 1 BIG bite or everythingBefore I say No Thank youAAAANNNNDDDI really really really mean it. By Julie Darling (-;

  3. Cass-

    WOW! You have captured Olivewood like no other person has!!!! Thank you so much. What an amazing story your photos have told.

    Thank you for taking the time to document this!


  4. How can we get involved?

    • To contact OliveWood Gardens: 619 434-4260

      We welcome guests to tour our Learning Center every Tuesday at 10am. Interested visitors may join us for a one-hour overview of our program. These tours include garden and kitchen class observation and are also an opportunity to meet other people interested in edible education, gardening, and school lunch reform in our region. Tour groups meet in the parking lot at 2525 N Avenue. There is no charge for our public tours, but please confirm your participation to

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