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We help entrepreneurs start and grow their business by training them through entrepreneurial courses, relevant classes, and valuable relationships with experienced entrepreneurs and other business professionals.

Blog

Ratatouille and Team Cook It Up

Nasha Lending

My time at the performing high school shaped my life profoundly. I was given the freedom to take risks, and to fail in a safe environment. This summer, I’ve seen the teens I’m working with experience the same opportunity for failure and success.

As easy as it would be to give the answers directly to them, I serve them better by asking them questions that make them think more deeply about a problem, and in turn, open up new pathways to solutions. I’ve found I always like their inventive ideas even better than my own.

When we approach a situation without judgment, we’re able to see beyond our own small mindset. An ancient Greek term I learned while studying anthropology, called epoche, meaning the suspension of judgement, became very useful in approaching our brainstorming process. The practice of never shutting down even the most outlandish ideas is crucial in the beginning, because those ideas could be the spark to light up another, more attainable idea.

My team, Cook It Up, is working to create recipe cards for Mill Village Farms’ Mobile Market – a farm truck that sells our locally grown produce that is harvested by our youth crews. Our recipes will feature produce grown by MVF with instructions for preparing it in a healthy, simple way.

Our primary partnership is with Whole Foods Market (WFM) and their Healthy Eating Specialist, Traci Barr. We took field trips to WFM to sparks ideas about packaging, display, and recipe ingredients. Traci shared her story and agreed to help us develop our recipes.

From the get-go, she told our team that she would offer her time, teaching, and cooking space to us, but only if we really needed her. She said, “I’m all in to help with this awesome project, but only if you are too. If you guys aren’t excited about this, then I don’t have time for you.” I love how straightforward she was in her proposal, and we told her right away that we would love nothing more than to work with her.

Our second time working with Traci was at her house, in her fully outfitted kitchen. We brought fresh produce ingredients from the farm, including zucchini, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, bell peppers, and basil. She taught us how to make Ratatouille, a traditional French Provencal stewed vegetable dish (Yes, the famous dish of the Pixar animated film!).

It’s easy an easy dish to execute because all of the vegetables are simmered together, making it a one pot meal. The health benefits are huge thanks to all of the colorful, nutrition-filled vegetables used. She also taught us how to make a raw tomato salad with raw corn, basil, and a homemade balsamic, shallot, and olive oil vinaigrette. The teens got to taste everything, and they surprised themselves at how much they liked what they tried.

Traci has a gift for showing people that vegetables can be delicious if you simply take the time to prepare them right, and she succeeded in convincing everyone who was involved! Because of the positive, experimental attitude she had, the teens were very open and chatty with Traci. She trusted them to participate in the process and we all felt like chefs as we practiced cutting veggies using the skills she taught us. A community meal experience is a team effort, and it gave us something shared to bond over, as well as inspiring us to work towards our project goals.

Last week, we got to work with Dapper Ink, a local custom printing and outfitting company, to choose the design and format of our recipe cards. The students loved seeing the work Dapper had out for display and sale in their shop; the t-shirts, postcards, and stickers gave them a good picture of the quality of work produced there. They were surprisingly quiet while we were in the studio, and I realized after talking with them later that the questions being asked about design were fairly intimidating for them, because we only briefly discussed it together, and they didn’t feel confident enough to talk about it with the designers. I learned confidence is key in communicating with our partners, and I witnessed each member of my team become more and more secure in themselves as we have networked with different adults.

We call ourselves “Team Eggplant” as a joke, because on our first trip to Whole Foods, the teens begged me to take a picture of them holding up eggplants next to a large eggplant mural in Whole Foods. I reluctantly agreed, and even more reluctantly considered their suggestion when they asked if our recipe could include eggplant because they had never tried it and hoped to. Later on, Traci suggested we make ratatouille based on the premise of “if it grows together, it goes together,” meaning if it vegetables are harvested in the same season, they will taste great in a dish together. So, our recipe was born, to include a variety of seasonal veggies we sell on our Mobile Market, and what vegetable do you think is the star of ratatouille? Eggplant!

Telling our story, networking, cooperating, compromising, budgeting, these are the worthwhile skills and lessons that our young entrepreneurs will take with them, whether or not this product “wins.”

This business project is a journey. Every idea we mull over, field trip we drive to (& wrong turn I get teased for), and every partner with which we get to make genuine connections are opportunities for learning. Telling our story, networking, cooperating, compromising, budgeting, these are the worthwhile skills and lessons that our young entrepreneurs will take with them, whether or not this product “wins.” Through this project, we can channel the energies of young people into a community-focused effort that affirms each individual with the promise that they have something of value to bring the table.

 - Claire, MVF Intern and Team Cook It Up Captain

 

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