Venturing into the Unknown

By: Chef John Chapiewski, Russell Co. High School

One of the things I try to teach my students at Russell County High School is to have an open mind. I emphasize this especially when they are trying new foods. Recently, I had to open my own mind. One of the projects we are doing at school is starting a garden for our culinary program.

Being a city boy for most of my life, I can honestly tell you that beginning a garden from the ground up was about as foreign to me as learning the Greek language.  However, I have several advantages versus most city slickers. First off, both sets of grandparents were farmers so I wasn’t a complete novice. Secondly, Coach Nichols(our school’s wrestling coach who happens to be a avid gardener) and Ryan Cook(our school’s botany teacher) helped me tremendously and to be honest, they probably put in more work than I did. Of course, I’ll take credit for all of it!!!! (Just kidding, guys!)

I tell you the truth though, that when we finally planted the seeds it seemed all worth it. A true labor of love in its purest sense. I know that our students are excited about it and that is what it is all about. What have we planted you ask? A plethora of fruits and vegetables including several types of watermelons, cantaloupe, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, beans, peas, squash, zucchini, eggplant, and peppers.

With these crops we can produce one of my favorite dishes: ratatouille. Now despite the contrary, this dish was around long before the movie!

First, take a red onion and a red pepper and dice into one inch chunks. Saute in about 3-4 oz. of olive oil for about 4 minutes. Add one tablespoon minced garlic and continue to cook. Season with salt and white pepper. Next, dice into one inch chunks one each of the following: zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant. Place all the vegetables into the same pot and continue to cook over medium heat for 7-8 minutes. Once the vegetables have cooked down add one jar of marinara sauce and stir. Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese and some fresh basil. Aaahhhh, the joys of a garden!

Chef John


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