A bare table with 40 chairs is stretched down the length of the covered veranda of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation Kitchen House & Culinary Garden. Tonight it is the Mentors’ Table, a fundraising event spearheaded by Chef Jaime McFadden’s PEAS Foundation to create a meaningful edible education experience not just for the 20 ticket buyers, but also 20 kids from New Image Youth Center.
The after-school center provides youth “a safe haven to dream,” says executive director Shanta Bartonstubbs who noticed that the Kitchen House & Garden is only three miles from the center’s location in the heart of Parramore. “We want to give our students programming that they wouldn’t normally have access to,” she said.
Together, the adults and kids not only receive instruction on how to properly set the table for a multi-course meal, they also learn from Gardener Brad Jones about boy and girl plants in the garden and the “party” going on in the compost heap; everyone grinds their own spice rub by hand with a mortar and pestle and learns from Chef Kevin Fonzo how to sear salmon with perfect cross-hatch marks.
Finally, it’s time to be seated and everyone enjoys a beautiful and delicious candle-lit meal served by the staff of Cuisiniers, the Orlando catering company owned by McFadden. The kids chatter about what they’ve experienced and conversation flies up and down and across the table. These kids have adventurous palates and try everything they are served; and even if they aren’t sure what to do with the cloth napkin, their manners are impeccable. Their enthusiasm is off the chart!
PEAS is a non-profit organization that McFadden co-founded seven years ago with George Arredondo with the mission of Producing Eating Alternatives Simply. In other words, to feed hungry people healthy food.
McFadden’s Cuisiniers is often asked to donate food for fundraisers. McFadden has a big heart, especially when it comes to kids, and he said yes when asked to help put on a tea at New Image Youth Center in Parramore. Once his teamed learned more about the after-school center that has, since 2004, had 21 teens graduate from high school, 11 who are now in college, and one who is a PhD student at Harvard, “they told me we should do a PEAS fundraiser for them,” said McFadden.
“I never just want to put on a fundraiser without an educational component,” said McFadden. A couple weeks later, Edible Education Experience, a like-minded non-profit in its start-up phase of operating the Kitchen House had opened. McFadden knew EdibleEdExp needed help, as well, so he offered to teach a class and quickly came up with this idea, to bring in the kids, too.
“New Image really defines why we created PEAS,” said McFadden. “We didn’t have one specific group in mind. But our target was producing simple alternatives for eating simply for the birth through the 8th grade age group. When I met Shanta and the kids, I knew we had a good fit.”
By all measurements, the first Mentors’ Table was a huge success. “There was a perception of value when guests walked away,” said McFadden. “They felt they’d made a difference in this child’s life, they got dinner for two, they were introduced to the Kitchen House, and it all felt really, really important.” “In this world today, if you put forth a little extra effort and attention to detail, it pays off in the long run.
In light of McFadden’s generous heart, the Edible Education Experience team elected to share the evening’s proceeds with NIYC in the amount of $250.
This new initiative of PEAS, EdibleEdExp and NIYC has really got people abuzz, looking forward to the next Mentors’ Table. If interested in being made aware of a possible Mentors’ Table 2.0, visit EdibleEd.org and subscribe by providing your email.
Written by Megan Padilla