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New Mural Highlights Manhattan House Junior Chef Project

Jan 23, 2017 12:33PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Visitors to Manhattan House will notice a striking new mural on the west side of the building: a portrait of Chef Diana Stavaridis ("Chef D") working in a garden alongside a young student.

The mural is a tribute to Chef D's "Junior Chefs" program, now in its second year, through which she partners with local elementary schools and the Growing Great program to harvest vegetables from the school gardens and help young students design and create dishes that will be served at the restaurant.

The mural was conceived and coordinated by a local Girl Scout, Marisa McGovern, for her senior Gold Award project. Along with her troop, McGovern, 14, had picked the "Sow What?" journey as a project to explore where food is grown, harvested, processed, distributed, and consumed. McGovern developed an initial sketch for the mural, and approached both Jill Coons, director of Education for Growing Great, and Chef D, who both welcomed the mural idea.

Muralist Claire Ouimet was called in to adapt the design and focus more on an interactive image of Chef D. with a student, resulting in the current image.

"The mural is a celebration of community gardening showcasing the vibrant beauty of fresh fruits and vegetable in their unprocessed state.  Hopefully the mural will inspire others to support community gardening, restaurants like Manhattan House that locally source their food, shop at their local farmers market, and get involved with Growing Great," said Corina McGovern, Marisa McGovern's mother. "It is all in service of reducing our global food foot print and inspiring healthy eating." 

The mural will have two more significant additions this spring. First, it will be surrounded by decorative tiles that are designed by local elementary school students. Growing Great is currently conducting an art contest among the five elementary schools in which students are asked to draw a picture of their favorite fruit or vegetable. The winning entries will be painted on tiles and used to create a border for the mural.

Additionally, Marisa McGovern will be building a planter box to create an actual garden in front of the mural. Garden stakes with names of each of the elementary schools will decorate the planter.

Through the Junior Chef program, Chef D visits each elementary school two times, first to talk with 5th graders about what they're growing in their garden, and next to do a tasting and talk about flavor profiles. The next step is for the 5th graders to come to Manhattan House, tour the kitchen, get a safety lesson, and then learn to cook their dish from start to finish.

So far this year, Pacific Elementary students have already done a project with Chef D, and this month Grand View Elementary students are developing their menu item. Inspired by a lemon tree at the school, the "Grand View Gator Gourmands" will be making burrata-filled ravioli with nasturtium pod pesto and lemon butter.

As an added bonus, kids who are in the program who come in to the restaurant with their parents are allowed to come and work alongside Chef D in the kitchen.

"The reason I started this program is to hopefully inspire the kids - that this is what they could do, or this is how they could eat," said Chef D. "They're inspired and they're excited."

Chef D says that she plans to continue this program, as well as begin new ones such as an adult cooking class on Saturday mornings, because she is such a strong believer in sharing knowledge about using locally sourced food and eating well. "I'm always going to stick to what I believe in, and this is what I believe in," she said.

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