By Dedra Cordle
As one of the chefs in charge of catering a community celebration on the Hilltop, David Brue broke one of the unwritten rules from his fellow culinary experts.
“I didn’t have a menu planned,” he admitted.
Instead, he says he allowed it to come to him.
Shortly after pulling up to the Highland Youth Garden, the culinary educator at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center went browsing through its bounty for inspiration and marveled at all he found there.
“There was so much variety here,” he said.
As he continued along the pathways that led to more native plants, herbs, fruits and vegetables, a rough draft began forming in his head.
He pictured watermelon hot off the grill, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. A tomato penne bisque topped with herbs, vegetables and a smattering of cheese. Homemade salsa to go along with the low sodium chips. Fried green tomatoes. Caprese salad. Delighted smiles.
With the assistance of a dozen adult and children volunteers, herbs were snipped, vegetables were picked and the food was scrubbed in preparation for a hearty, healthy meal.
To prepare said variety of meals, Brue hopped into a mobile unit, more accurately known as The James Mobile Education Kitchen, set up the grill and his station and got to work.
Fellow chef Jim Warner, who is also the head chef and program director of Food and Nutrition at the Wexner Medical Center, said he was not surprised by the amount of people who came out to the community event, but by the amount of people who were willing to try these new foods.
“I think the delicious smells are getting to them,” he said with a laugh as he looked at the growing line.
For several months now, the Mobile Education Kitchen, which was purchased by Celebration for Life, a major fundraising event for the James Fund for Life, has been coming into communities teaching about healthy eating, food preparation and ways to reduce cancer risks through dietary changes. Though the program is essentially in its infancy, Warner said they have already seen an impact.
“It has been beneficial because we get to reach out to these people in communities who may not be able to get out to the Medical Center (to learn healthier eating habits through established programs),” he said. “This Mobile Education Kitchen allows us to bring the information to them, in their communities and around people and places they are most comfortable.”
The appearance of the Mobile Education Kitchen was made possible through the relationships members of the Highland Youth Garden board said they have made throughout the years.
“Our local business partners, like OSU, have been so good to us,” said Beth Urban. “Along with all of our volunteers, none of this could be possible without them.”
While the Highland Youth Garden typically hosts community celebrations once a month, this event on Aug. 22 was a little less typical as there was a culinary focus on cancer-fighting foods, most of which were found right there in the garden. Both Brue and Warner encouraged the community to eat more of these foods that are rich with phytochemicals.
“We don’t want to see you at the James,” said Brue to the crowd as he diced a tomato.
In addition to the nutritional education aspect of the event, it was also a celebration for the start of the new school year for the youth volunteers.
Jasmin Martin, an incoming freshman at West who has been volunteering for four years, said she wasn’t as excited by the prospect of going to school the next day as she was about this educational celebration.
“I like being out in the garden and cooking a little bit more,” she said.