Teaching, Tasting & Telling Stories: One Lovely Day in August

By Brenna O’Dea

A few weeks ago we wrapped up our summer with a special event honoring our teachers and chefs. Some of the hardest working people around, these members of our Pilot Light family bring our vision to life with every lesson they teach and every child they inspire.

Imagine walking into a classroom. You have only been a fourth grader for a few weeks and you still have some nervous jitters. One of your favorite comforts is having the same meal for lunch everyday: PB&J (no crusts please!), veggie straws, apple slices and a few dark chocolate chips for good measure. Today however, something is different. You see some grown ups wearing white aprons, yielding some super sharp knives and you smell something fishy. Not truly fishy, fish is not on the menu today, but PIZZA is.

At first, you are excited, a pizza party on this otherwise ordinary Monday afternoon? Sounds pretty good to me. But then you see something else. What is THAT? Is it cheese? What kind of cheese? Why is it so soft and mushy? It looks wet. Why is it wet? Are those tomatoes??? I guess I have eaten tomatoes in pizza sauce before, but seeing them fresh off the vine like that…I’m suspicious. What’s all that GREEN stuff?? Pine needles?? It smells kind of like soap…why are my teachers trying to ruin pizza for me?? Can I just stick to my PB&J please?

Fast forward one hour, you have devoured your mini pizza covered in fresh crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and dried rosemary. You tasted some other herbs too. You learnt they were called basil, thyme and sage. You thought they tasted disgusting, but that’s okay. At least you gave it a try and ended up loving the rosemary. Onto the pizza pie and into your belly it went! This transformation, from fearful to full-bellied, cautious to confident, would not be possible without our wonderful partner chefs and teachers.

On August 23rd we hosted a day of discussion and appreciation for the teachers who lead our lessons in Chicago schools, and the chefs who guide these culinary experiences. The day opened with omelet making and a lovely introduction by two of our founding chefs, Matthias Merges and Jason Hammel. Our teachers enjoyed their eggs and more chefs filtered in throughout the day to continue cooking and talking about the future of Pilot Light in Chicago classrooms. Justin Large of Vander Mill Cider (another wonderful PL founder), Joshua Kulp of Honey Butter Fried Chicken and Sandra Holl of Floriole Café & Bakery just to name a few.

The teachers engaged in meaningful discussion and reflection about our goals for the new school year, and how we can better work to incorporate storytelling into our lessons. One of the most powerful moments from the day was hearing each teacher describe why they chose certain ingredients for their omelets. Did the smell of basil remind them of a childhood memory? Had they detested mushrooms as a child but grown to love them as an adult? Maybe they had never tried one of the ingredients before, for example, ooey gooey super duper fresh BURRATA, and they were just feeling adventurous that day? Isn’t it amazing how one simple ingredient, the egg, can inspire so many unique dishes and more importantly unique stories and memories? That is why we love food here at Pilot Light, and why we think food is such an important part of life for young children. Developing a happy & healthy relationship with food can start at a young age and only lead to happier & healthier trends later in life.

Discussions of culture, community, family, personal growth, sense of belonging – these are just some of the topics we scratched the surface of on this wonderful day of learning. After preparing an incredible meal right alongside our chefs, the teachers sat down together to eat and enjoy. Laughter filled the gaps and there was a beautiful sense of calm. Or at least the calm before the storm…a fresh classroom full of rambunctious kids!

We look forward to the rest of this school year and hearing stories from your little ones about their favorite foods, least favorite foods and that one time they tried that funky green stuff…and loved it! What was it called again…? Rosemary! Okay, okay, they will always have a soft spot in their heart for that classic PB&J, but hey, so do we, and there’s nothin’ wrong with that.

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