When Stephanie joins the kids (from East Fremantle Primary and Singleton Primary schools) in front of the gathered audience at Garden Week, everyone is a little nervous. After all, she is a legend. Her program is responsible for teaching some 35 000 Australian primary school kids how to grow food and cook it. She has earned her reputation through hard work.
She is more silver than silver. She has her large beads. Her expressive eyebrows.
She talks to the audience while the kids around her cook. She knows she can leave them to it. She hovers behind, but not obtrusively. She says she tries not to be bossy. As mothers, we all know how hard that can be. She compliments a child on his knife skills. She shows some others how to cut the rib out of the silver beet, but also has suggestions on how to use it. She crisps up the sage in the butter because it can’t be merely wilted, it needs to crack like dry leaf. I am pleased to think that kids are learning this.
The Singleton Primary students must be as nervous as the East Freo kids are – they wash their silver beet twice. No one would want Stephanie to taste sand or grit in their dish. It’s hard to get the temperature just right on the fancy outdoor kitchen. She says you could call her primitive, but she prefers to see the flame over which she is cooking.
While the zucchini colours she expounds the virtues of local extra virgin olive oil and one of our students tells her of how we made it ourselves last year. We know, first-hand, from our own experience of pressing the fruit, that there is nothing added to the final product. It doesn’t require chemistry or a factory. No emulsifiers. No animal has suffered in the process. Stephanie describes it as as simple as fruit juice.
While the kids rub the toasted bread with the raw garlic, Stephanie tells us how we must avoid the bleached and imported kind. Buy locally grown Australian garlic – purple – not bleached or sprayed to stop it sprouting. Its papery mauve skin like tissue paper – veined like spider webs through ageing skin. Each clove so moist that when it is crushed beneath the blade of a knife, garlic juice wets your palm. Try growing it your school gardens, she says, as borders to the other plants.
Our students pick some edible flowers to decorate the plate and Stephanie says how important it is to serve the food at the table. Zucchini Bruschetta with preserved lemon, goats cheese, garlic and sage. Have a bit of time to admire it for yourself in the kitchen and then take it to the table for everyone else to feast their eyes on. Don’t dish it out in the kitchen. Let it be seen, complimented on and finally enjoyed. She opens her arms out wide to the audience. See what these kids can do…