Star chef David Chang helps bring garden classrooms to Brooklyn.
David Chang has two Michelin stars, three James Beard awards, and like many a culinary trailblazer, something of a caustic reputation. (The guy likes to swear.) But behind the bad-boy facade, the chef-owner of Manhattan's famed Momofuku restaurants has the heart of an idealist. Case in point: his alliance with slow-food advocate and Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters. Last year Chang joined the advisory board and became a major fund-raiser for Waters's pet project, the Edible Schoolyard (ESY), which integrates gardening and cooking into public school curricula. This past summer, at P.S. 216 in Brooklyn, workers tore up a quarter-acre of parking lot to begin construction on a garden, a greenhouse, and a kitchen classroom for a New York City ESY (others are up and running at schools in Berkeley, Los Angeles, and New Orleans).
"Cooking and gardening involve so many disciplines: math, chemistry, reading, history," says Chang. The powers that be in Gotham agree: The city has early-stage plans to expand the ESY concept to 25 more elementary schools using lesson plans developed at Columbia University Teachers College.
Chang also believes that ESY nurtures responsibility. "Say a child raises this beautiful beet," he explains. "It's going to give her a sense of ownership, and that changes everything. You stop taking things for granted; you become less wasteful." And you eat better: Studies show that kids in school-garden programs increase their fruit and vegetable intake by two servings a day.
"America is a country of abundance, but our food culture is sad—based on huge portions and fast food," Chang says. "Let's stop with the excuses and start creating something better. Why not us? Why not now?"