March 6, 2019

Garden State On Your Plate Partners With John Witherspoon MS 

FINE-TUNING THE VINAIGRETTE: Chef Coby Farrow visited John Witherspoon Middle School to talk with the food science students and help them improve their vinaigrette, which will be featured on the house salad at Jammin’ Crepes later this month.  (Photo courtesy of Princeton Public Schools)

By Donald Gilpin

That tasty vinaigrette on your spring salad at Jammin’ Crepes may have had its origin in the eighth-grade food science class of Nyrie Janho at John Witherspoon Middle School (JWMS).

Garden State on Your Plate (GSOYP), an initiative by Princeton School Gardens (PSG), has been working closely with Janho’s classes, last term focusing on kohlrabi and this term working on pea shoots, all grown in the classroom garden. Next month will feature scallions.

“My food science students have been working on designing a vinaigrette for the March elementary tastings, and I have woven this experience into our unit study of emulsions, truly bringing science to life,” said Janho.

The students tasted the pea shoots to get a sense of what they were designing the vinaigrette for, and they learned about the basics of assembling a vinaigrette.

“We discussed different flavors and seasonings, and which ones go well together,” Janho said. “Groups of students then designed their own vinaigrettes. They again used their own pea shoots to taste each other’s vinaigrettes and vote on which was best.”

After each of Janho’s two food science classes had chosen its favorite vinaigrette, Coby Farrow, celebrity New York chef and veteran of Chopped, Beat Bobby Flay, and other  popular TV shows, visited to help the students tweak their recipes and balance ingredients to perfection.

“Chef Coby instructed the students on technique for creating an emulsion that wouldn’t break, by hand-whisking and very slowly adding in the oil,” said Janho. Farrow also showed the students how to add or subtract from their oil-to-acid ratio in order to balance the vinaigrette. He suggested hand-breaking the herbs to preserve their flavor in the vinaigrette instead of chopping them.

The students closely watched Chef Coby at work then asked him questions about his job as a chef and restaurant entrepreneur.       

Further tastings followed with additional pea shoots from the classroom garden and from Jess Niederer’s Chickadee Creek Farm in Hopewell Valley. The students examined the vinaigrettes again, this time recording data on their observations, developing questions, and
noticing patterns based on what they observed.

“This exciting partnership continues to grow and become an outstanding connection for the students and the community,” said Janho. “The food science classes are participating in a truly authentic experience as we partner with many people in the community, making the students’ work in the classroom extend beyond the doors of the room.”

Jammin’ Crepes owner Kim Rizk has the winning recipe in hand, and she reports that Jammin’ Crepes will be preparing it and serving it on their house salad beginning next week.  She noted that her restaurant has had a long-term relationship with PSGC, at one point teaching a class in making jams, “something we specialize in,” and helping to make connections among farmers, schools, and restaurants.   

PSGC co-founder Fran McManus pointed out the value of taking the students beyond the science classroom and into real world applications of that science.

“There is a lovely community around food that exists in this town,” McManus said, and she noted the excitement for the students in having a salad at Jammin’ Crepes with their name attached to it. “Thinking that their vinaigrette will be on display enriches the whole experience,” McManus added. “This is valuable because there’s a practical use for what they’re learning, and beyond that they had to think about taste and balance.”

Hoping to see other food businesses in town get involved with PSGC in the future, McManus went on to emphasize the importance of the community-building aspect of the project.  “The connections can get deeper and richer across the community,” she said, “and we can connect with more chefs and more students.”

McManus noted that GSOYP is currently funded by a School Garden Ice Cream Fundraiser, collaboration between the bent spoon and the Whole Earth Center that has raised more than $35,000 since 2006, which PSGC has used to support food-and-garden-based education in the PPS.

Janho discussed her plans for expanding the program and involving more students at JWMS. “I would like to have my students begin creating videos on the whole process from learning about the vegetable, to learning the science behind the recipes, to their preparation and execution of the recipes.”

She continued, “I love how this has truly become an authentic learning experience for the students. My goal always has been for students to see how science is all around them and how it pertains to their everyday life. Our work with GSOYP and Chef Coby has met and exceeded that goal in a very exciting and relevant way.”