I have been a big fan of Stephanie Alexander since I can remember. Her famous cookbook, “The Cook’s Companion”, has been like a food bible to me over the years, and always manages to delight with its delicious recipes. But what I have admired the most about Stephanie recently is her groundbreaking work in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, a not for profit organisation dedicated to helping children adopt healthy food choices and introduce kitchen gardens into primary schools.
After working in the education industry for a few years and Save the Children Australia, I have become really passionate about children’s education, and the importance of teaching children about healthy habits and nutrition from an early age. So when I was invited for an exclusive lunch with Stephanie to talk about the foundation at Locale Restaurant at De Bortoli Wines I jumped at the chance.
With a whiff of summer in the air, we took advantage of the sunshine and soaked up some Vitamin D on the terrace of the Locale Restaurant amongst the vines. De Bortoli is one of the most picturesque wineries of the Yarra Valley set within a beautiful landscape of gentle rolling hills and a patchwork quilt of colours.
I had the pleasure of meeting Leanne De Bortoli (Manager De Bortoli Winery & Restaurant Yarra Valley) and Stephen Webber (Chief Winemaker and Leanne’s husband) who told us a bit about the winery and introduced us to their brand new prosecco. De Bortoli have recently partnered with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation in 2014, with support extending to public workshops and many other activities.
Stephanie captivated the crowd with a down to earth speech, sharing some really interesting insights about the food industry in Australia and its history. I had no idea the food industry in Australia was so young; it wasn’t until the 1980s that the industry really blossomed, as a result of an increase in travel, food media, food magazines and continued migration. Stephanie was one of the pioneers of the early food movement – publishing her first book about restaurant food in 1985.
But with this resurgence came problems, generated by the increase in convenience goods, takeaway and sugary bars and drinks leading to an epidemic of obesity and diet related problems.
The foundation grew out of Stephanie’s passion for the need for children to learn about food early in life through example and positive experiences and the effect of those lessons on their food choices through life. “I took this situation to heart and wanted to do something about it. The foundation started in 2001” she said. “For the first thirteen years I concentrated on assembling a great team, and doing what I could to expand the number of primary schools that decided to introduce our program of growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing into their own curriculum.”
At the beginning of 2015 the foundation is supporting 830 schools all across Australia. “There are 830 individual stories of achievement and they are all inspiring.” Stephanie adds.
A three course sumptuous feast was put on my the Locale restaurant, starting with a warm asparagus custard with beurre blanc, asparagus tips and tempura broccoli followed by a crumbed milawa free-range chicken breast with a spring medley of vegetables.
The dessert won the key to my heart – a delicious home-baked rhubarb and almond crumble tart and rhubarb ice-cream paired with the award-winning Noble One dessert wine.
After lunch, I had the pleasure of personally meeting Ange Barry (CEO) and Stephanie to ask some questions about the foundation. Stephanie believes that school canteens can be a huge part of the problem of the obesity epidemic. “I think there should be a blanket ban on schools selling lollies and soft drinks”. she said. “Some schools have outsourced their catering services so have lost control of what is offered.”
It was great to hear how passionate Stephanie is after so many years, she still says the foundation involvement with the schools gives her “goosebumps” after 15 years. “For me ultimate success will be when the government mandates that every child should have some pleasurable food education at some point in their school life.” The foundation’s aim is to be represented in 10% of Australian schools with a primary curriculum by the end of 2015.
For more information about the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation visit kitchengardenfoundation.org.au