Eastover partners with local chef for the love of healthy eating

Fundraiser to be held Nov.29 at The Root

By: Robin Ruehlen | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 29, 2012

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — With the help of a local award-winning restaurant, students at Eastover Elementary will soon have the ability to grow and harvest fresh vegetables year-round.

Eastover Visible Thinking and Sustainability Coordinator Christine Tang announced last week that The Root Restaurant & Bar of White Lake and Executive Chef James Rigato have partnered with Eastover to form the Cook Harvest Eat Well program, also know as C.H.E.W.

“We are hoping to make the lunches healthier by offering whole foods and locally grown foods, in exchange for less processed food,” she said. “That starts by having students supplement the existing lunch program with produce grown in the student garden and in the classrooms, and working with local vendors and our own school farm, as well. Chef Rigato is really hoping to change the way the next generation eats, and hopes to make an impact on the Michigan economy by supporting local farms and vendors.”

On Nov. 29, The Root is hosting the “Feastover for Eastover” fundraiser in honor of the Eastover C.H.E.W., and proceeds will benefit the purchase of hydroponics equipment that will allow students to grow produce in the classroom during the winter months. 

“The good news is, this is a full-on dinner like we do every month — there is no setback because of our donation. It is still seven courses with fine wine pairings, using the highest-quality products we can get,” Rigato said. “We are buying the hydroponics equipment, period, and the dinner is in honor of the purchase — as a guest, there is no sacrifice for the quality of food and beverage. You’re just supporting a good cause.”

Rigato began working with Eastover staff in August, teaching them new recipes for items that can be prepared using ingredients from the Eastover garden, such as vegetable risotto and salad vinaigrette. Teachers then demonstrate those recipes to students using the school’s mobile kitchen.

Rigato said his long-term goal as the district’s culinary consultant is to change the way kids receive and perceive food, and finding new ways to fit healthy eating into the curriculum.

“We’ve talked about how teachers can use recipes in their math lessons and vegetable seeds in science lessons, or even how cooking rice could be used as a chemistry lesson,” he said. “Kids are hungry for the world, so when you get them excited about growing their own food, the possibilities are endless.”

Although Eastover was the first elementary in the Bloomfield Hills School District to create a student garden and mobile kitchen using grant funds, Tang said Conant Elementary has since created its own garden, and Way Elementary has a plan in the works for this spring. News of Eastover’s program has spread beyond Oakland County, as well, as several others schools around the state have approached her for more information about the garden program and the mobile kitchen.

“The hope is that Eastover will be able to pilot a new lunch program that will spread district-wide,” she said.

Tang praised Rigato’s passion for the CHEW project, and said he has refused to accept compensation for acting as the district’s culinary consultant.

“Every time he hangs up the phone with me, he says, ‘We’re gonna change the world, Christine,’” she said.  “He has come to Eastover to train the staff, toured our food service facilities, met with the superintendent, and basically, agreed to do anything to get our kids to eat healthier, for free.”

“Feastover for Eastover” takes place at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at The Root Restaurant & Bar, 340 Town Center Blvd. in White Lake. The cost is $65 per person, reservations only. For more information or to make reservations, call (248) 698-2400.