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Our Voices: Chefs Visit Suttons Bay

February 15, 2012 | By Kirsten Gerbatsch

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Chef Courtland Nelson cracked nearly a dozen farm fresh eggs into a large stainless steel bowl, with dozens of eyes upon him. Cracking egg after egg, he showed the grace and agility of a man of precise skill and years of experience. Middle school students leaned in to watch as he transformed flour, eggs, and water into a pasta. With their eyes intent on the bowl, they marveled at the deep-orange color of the eggs’ yolks. Our brave student even ventured to ask, “Why do the eggs look like that?”

Local chefs recently met with school children in Suttons Bay as part of the Chefs Move to Schools program.


Chef Courty is an intern chef at a Traverse City restaurant called Trattoria Stella. He is completing his training at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute at Northwestern Michigan College. Courty and the restaurant manager, Al Silveri, arrived at this morning’s Health & Foods class at Suttons Bay Middle School in northwestern Lower Michigan to provide a presentation and cooking demonstration that was a part of a new initiative called Chefs Move to Schools. Trattoria Stella is one of several local restaurants, including Martha’s Table in Suttons Bay and The Cook’s House in Traverse City, to volunteer time, expertise, and knowledge to a Chefs Move to Schools initiative in this diverse agricultural region of the state. It’s a collaborative program with the new national FoodCorps and the locally based Michigan Land Use Institute, SEEDS and Michigan State University Extension. The goal is to help schools purchase and serve more locally grown food while also engaging students in healthy eating and a celebration of local farms.

Chefs Move to Schools is a program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign. Mrs. Obama has called on the country’s chefs to get involved in the health and well being of school children. Through this program, chefs partner with a local school and work with teachers, parents and school nutrition professionals and administrators to help educate kids about food and nutrition. They’re also available to help school food service staff create tasty, healthy meals that meet the schools’ dietary guidelines and budgets.

So what was on the menu today? Pasta made from scratch with a delectable garlic and parsley cream sauce, served with a large side of local, sustainable agriculture, nutrition education, and a sneak peak into career opportunities in the culinary world. Yummm….

Chef Courty and Mr. Silveri not only encouraged the students to make healthy food choices—they also spoke to the class about purchasing ingredients that are in season, supporting Michigan farms, and connecting with the farmers who grow the fruit and vegetables, raise the cows and pigs, and sell the chicken eggs that all end up on their restaurant’s menu. When the student inquired about the strange, deep orange egg yolks, Courty took the question as an opportunity to talk about the color as it relates to the superior nutritional value of the egg, the healthy, happy chickens who laid them, and the chicken raising practices of Chris and Pennie Halpin’s farm, the Land of Goshen, in Kaleva, Michigan.

The whole cooking demonstration was filled with questions and conversations about the ingredients, the Shetler dairy old-fashioned cream, the pasta-making machine, Courty’s culinary school experience, and his favorite foods. The students followed Courty around the kitchen, their eyes fixed on the transformation of the raw ingredients into a final dish and their noses taking in all the temping smells of garlic, olive oil, cream, and parsley. When the dish was fully prepared, the students were eager and excited to sample it.

“This is just too good. Seriously, too good,” declared one student as he finished his plate of pasta.

The deep satisfaction and reverence toward the chef was evident on his face and in the tone of his voice. Food has a unique way of shaping our memories through our sensory experience – the smells, textures, tastes, and satisfaction of a delicious meal. Through the Chefs Move to Schools program, the vivid food memories that these teenagers take with them after this class will be accompanied by the small yet deeply important lessons they are learning about nutrition, food, and farming.

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