Farm to table: Gourmet food tasting at Ann Arbor's King Elementary

Students sample food using ingredients from the school's garden

By Meredith Bruckner - Community News Producer

King Elementary students approve of chef Robertson's soup (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR - Students at Martin Luther King Elementary curiously popped their heads into the hallway as carts of soup made their way to classrooms this afternoon. 

But this wasn't ordinary soup. It was a chilled fall squash and carrot soup topped with beet chips and was personally delivered by Adam Baru, owner of Mani Osteria, Isalita and Mikette, and Ross Robertson, executive chef at Mikette. And it was made using ingredients grown in the King Learning Garden, an organic garden on the school's campus.

Chef Ross Robertson (L) and restaurant owner Adam Baru (R) present their soup (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Baru's daughter attends the school, and four years ago, he partnered with other King parents and the school to show kids that their hard work growing and harvesting produce in the garden can be created and enjoyed in fine restaurants.

"We really enjoy doing it so much and the garden’s gotten bigger, there’s more variety," Baru explained. "Whatever we don’t have, there's a really great local farm called Tantre that also participates and helps us fill in the blanks so it’s really become a pretty cool organically growing program. We get a little nervous about it every year because we have to change it up, and the kids can be pretty big critics of this food!”

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

One such critic was fifth grader Allen Liu, who said, "It’s pretty good, I thought it would be nice with bread, especially warm bread. I thought that it didn’t have much flavor, but the little flavor it has was nice. I’d prefer it warm, but it still tastes good.” 

Baru, chef Robertson and parent volunteers delivered the soup to 600 students in 20 classrooms. Baru and Robertson would present the soup and would take a vote of 'Thumbs Up' or 'Thumbs Down' after each tasting. One table of students called it 'Gryffindor soup,' since the colors of the carrot and the beet resembled the Harry Potter series' dorm colors at Hogwarts.

"I think it’s generally positive," said Robertson of the student feedback. "It’s definitely a little less than I would run in the restaurant just because I didn’t want to overwhelm everyone, and there’s a lot of dietary restrictions serving 600 people, so I tried to keep the seasoning as simple as possible."

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

"When they delivered me the vegetables, I got Swiss chard, garlic -- way more than I expected, it was awesome," Robertson said. "I made a vegetable stock out of carrot tops, beet tops, Swiss chard, all the onion skins. Then I roasted off a bunch of Dickinson squash. They’re really big, meaty squash but they’re very soft so they’re not good for raw applications. But they’re very juicy and they’re great for pumpkin pies and things. That’s normally what you’re getting in your Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Dickinson squash." After cooking the garlic and onions until they became sweet, he cooked down the carrots, combined the stock and pureed it all together.  

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Becky Locke, a parent volunteer and assistant manager of Ann Arbor Farmers Market, has been involved in the program since its second year. "This is our seventh growing season and the fourth year of tasting. My favorite part is watching the kids’ reactions! And the interaction between the chef and the kids is awesome. It’s to show them that restaurant food even comes from the garden and earth and not just from the grocery store shelf."

We look forward to seeing what the chef comes up with next year at King Elementary!

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