February 27, 2016

A Day of Education.....Distinguished Visiting Chefs and Friends

This week was a killer. I really used to wonder what people that worked in schools did with all their time off....well..... four years later, I get it. Working in public schools is fabulous, full of purpose, and exhausting. I awake at 5am, and literally sprint through each day, M-F at full tilt, lifting heavy pots, wielding sharp knives, serving serving serving until 730pm, when I finally sit down for an hour of family time before my daughter goes to bed. It is no wonder that I feel like crap most Saturdays, even though I really LOVE my job and my life.

Anyway, although this week was tough, it was also amazing. I had the great opportunity to host a friend and accomplished chef, Tim Bodell from Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville on my home turf, in my PHS kitchen. As an extra bonus, he brought along with him, colleague Chef Tommaso Lacanfora, from the instep of the boot (Italy), the man who creates all the food at Palazzo Margherita, one of Coppola's resort properties around the world.

Every year in my Farm to Table class, I travel with twelve students from PHS, to farms in the far reaches of the Bay Area. I am so lucky to have made so many friends, with like values around food and service. They host us and educate us;  bringing to the fore how the exhaustive work and dedication of local farmers literally bring food to the tables of the families of my students. I love doing it each year, even though I am dead tired...I wouldn't miss the opportunity for the world. I get to plug in and reconnect with my passionate values of why I do this work.

This is how I met Chef Tim Bodell. The first year I offered my Summer class, one of the farms had to back out at the last moment. I brain stormed with a couple of my colleagues and found out that one of the parents of an enrolled student, was in fact the Director of Hospitality for FFCW and she offered their Geyserville property as a quick substitute trip. At the time, of course I took her up on her generous offer, but to be honest, I was skeptical. As fun as it might be to visit a winery, how would it fit into my class? I didn't have the time to research the answer and just leaned into the belief that everything happens for a reason and went with it.

When we arrived, I was truly amazed at the gorgeous property, with it's dramatic architecture and the peaked copper roof of the tasting room. The grand driveway lined with olive trees. The surrounding foothills covered with vines. I parked the van, my students tired from the long drive, and we headed up the stairs to meet Sally, our PHS parent, I immediately felt like it would be a day to remember. We were introduced to Liese, the Viticulturalist who took us on a tour through the vines. Her knowledge...inspiring me and our students. Just when it started to get too hot to stay in the vines, we were led to meet Chef Tim, who's larger than life frame could have been intimidating, but instead he emanated warmth and the true spirit of hospitality and patience. He lead us through his kitchen garden, letting my students taste and touch, explaining how everything from the garden gets used on the property. Although at the time, the garden was fairly new, the kitchen had already determined that they would like more on site ingredients, and so expansion was already in the works. In the relatively small space, Chef Tim created a sanctuary for pollinators. Bee hives,  owl houses, butterfly and hummingbird attracting flowers. Everything edible and meticulously planned to be in complete harmony with wildlife, and just a step outside for Chef Tim and his team.

Fast forward four years later, and three trips more to Chef Tim's kitchen. I am not only now, teaching my Summer class, but responsible for food service for both PHS and PMS and after lunch, three days a week, teaching upperclassmen a culinary arts class for ROP and of course, in the process of getting my teaching credential. As a part of my skills class, I bring in guest teachers. Sometimes chefs, always friends. As a result, I hand over the direction of my class, for just 40 minutes and learn something new right along with my students.

Chef Tim spoke about the precision that dominates the running of a professional kitchen, likening it to the military. And again, you would think a man with the stature of Chef Tim talking about the military would be intimidating, but his warmth tempered the conversation with his love and care of his profession, his staff and his customers. When he relinquished the floor to Chef Tomasso, we learned about life in a small Italian town, how Tomasso still thinks that his mother's food is the best of everything he's ever put into his mouth, and how honoring the simplicity of preparation and on hand seasonal ingredients makes the tastiest food.

Both men are extraordinarily charismatic. Soon a crowd of mostly girls, gathered outside my kitchen, iPhone cameras flashing, capturing the moment along with a reporter from the Piedmont Post and our school paper. All the time, the men working on a focaccia, made from scratch and topped with a delicious tomato sauce and kalamata olives. The texture was amazing, crispy and soft, crunch and piquant. My students were surprised at how delicious it was without more toppings.

At the end of the day, I really had to pinch myself. How did I ever get so lucky to land in this amazing place? To have the opportunity to get to know so many people doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do? I don't really have the answer...but I am grateful.

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