Thursday, January 12, 2012

Chef Nate: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

If The Little School had a rock-star, it would be Chef Nate. As his cart makes its squeaky way down the hallway, the kids often drop what they are doing and shout “Chef Nate!”. I’m not exaggerating here.   As I was leaving work last night, he was returning to school to make homemade noodles for tomorrows lasagna. I asked if he knew that they carry such delicacies as noodles at the Food Lion, and he replied “Not for our kids. They get the best!” Trained at the Culinary Institute of America, our gourmet chef came to us straight from cooking at The 5 star Fearrington House Inn. Do these kids KNOW what they have? Short answer... no, but let’s have fun and ask them what Nate does at school?

“He cooks” -- Ellie 2

“He makes food for us to eat “-- Karson 5

“He brings me a song. Just a song.... and food” Isabelle 3

Ok,  so that’s an easy one. I then asked them to tell me what the BEST thing Chef Nate makes. 99.5% answered “Bread”, with “crusty bread” serving as a slight variation.Getting nowhere, I re-think the question. “Alright, OTHER then bread what is your favorite?”

“His Mac & Cheese! It’s REALLY cheesy”-- Sammy 5
“Pizza!” --- Gib 3
“The BAAAACOOON” --- Graham 5
“Corn” --- Ellie 2
Corn? I repeat, the man comes directly from The Fearrington Inn, and “applesauce” is the best thing he makes (In Flurey’s--age 5 defense, his applesauce IS beyond amazing). Realizing that this is an overly conceptual questions for young kids, I move on to the teachers. The answers fly faster then a bowl of Nate’s tomato bisque.... “spring rolls”, “anything with aioli sauce”, “homemade granola bars”, “ barbecue chicken and cheesy grits, “parmesan pop-overs” to name just a few. Drooling yet? No doubt, we are all eating well here at TLS!

So, what is it exactly that we are doing here? If the kids just want bread and bacon, why not just do that? Alice Waters, made famous for her Edible Schoolyard program writes:
“Right there, in the middle of each school day lies time and energy already devoted to the feeding of children. We have the power to turn that daily school lunch from an afterthought into a joyous education, a way of caring for our health, our environment, and community.“

During lunch, the teachers sit and eat family style with the students.  Older children serve themselves and pass the bowl to the next child.  The teachers encourage the kids to talk about the food they are eating, and are guided through questions such as “how do you think a chick-pea grows?”, “what does this tomato soup remind you of?”  Under the guidance of our very own green-thumb, Ms. Diana, the older classes plant and tend vegetable gardens that Chef Nate uses to prepare his sumptuous meals.  
The fresh, still warm bread, the vegetable gardens, even the lunch conversations are an extension of our curriculum. Think of it as another (really yummy) classroom. In this classroom we are teaching the children about food and how it arrives on their plates. This process encourages healthy choices, the joy of eating, and understanding when your body is finished eating.  In an era of skyrocketing cases of obesity and diabetes in children, these measures are crucial for the life long health of our children.

This is an idea that has received a great deal of press these days in part due to people like Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama’s, “Let’s Move” campaign.  Her goal is simple: to raise a generation of healthier kids.
A large piece of that effort is helping kids make healthy eating choices. In speaking to the Grocery Manufacturers Association Conference, she called upon the industry to join the fight against childhood obesity by promoting healthy eating habits by rethinking the kinds of products they offer. This is the fundamental principle behind The Little School’s food program. It is often said that as a culture we have gotten very far away from truly knowing where our food comes from, and the effects it has on our bodies.  A wonderful adage states, “If your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, it’s NOT.”  Teaching the children to grow their own food and to be exposed to a wide variety of delicious healthy options will help them make better choices for themselves.

So sure, even if pizza day still reigns King, and even if congress says it’s so, our kids know pizza is NOT a vegetable! We would love it if you could join your kids for lunch one day and experience one of the coolest things about our school. I personally recommend the chicken and dumplings.


  1. Chef Nate and the food program is one of the many reasons we love the school. It's a 50/50 chance whether Callum will answer Mom or Chef Nate when asked who is a better cook. I feel honored when he picks me because I know how stiff the competition is.

  2. I have to give Chef Nate and The Little School credit for my son, Ethan, not wanting junk foods like hot dogs and over processed chicken nuggets. He's grown to eat and love healthy, fresh food. We have become better eaters because of it. Thanks Chef Nate!

  3. When we attended the last graduation day I was amazed that the vegetable table was picked nearly clean while the dessert table was hardly touched, except when an adult came through the line!

  4. I have joined my son so often for lunch that I'm sure I'll be sent a tuition bill soon!

  5. I am waiting for the "Chef Nate's Secret Recipes" book to come out so we can re-create some of those favorites at home, or at least try. Now *that* would be a bestseller!!

  6. I would gladly pay a dollar today for a piece of Chef Nate's (onion & aioli) bread tomorrow.

  7. All of these replies to Jessica's post make my heart sing. We agree that this is important and that Nate does it better than we ever imagined. Please do join us for lunch sometime soon. The more the merrier.


  8. As a nutrition researcher interested in the influence of early childhood dietary patterns and adult health risk, I have to also commend Chef Nate (and the school administrators on the whole) for helping to protect our kids from health complications later in life, in addition to keeping them healthy now. The attention to food is certainly one of the major reasons we selected the school as well- and I have to say I was a little envious when I learned about his job!


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