Thursday, June 10, 2010

Chefs From Across the Nation Gather at the White House Kitchen Garden

Michelle Obama with Chef Sam Kass addressing chefs at the White House.

BY Susan Belsinger, ACHS Instructor

On Friday, June 4, 2010, over 500 chefs from 38 states gathered at the White House by invitation of the First Lady Michelle Obama in support of her Chefs Move to Schools initiative. I was one of the fortunate chefs invited to participate. Besides Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! program, which has been designed get our children to exercise regularly, the concept of the chefs’ program is to get our talented and creative chefs across the nation into schools to teach kids about healthy eating and making it fun, as well as work with the administrators, teachers and cooking staff to create better meals for our children. Many of the chefs are helping to create school gardens, which of course, is the best way to acquaint kids with the food they eat—from the ground up! [...]

So, this is a nationwide mission and it is evident with the number of chefs who came to D.C. on a very hot summer day to gather in support and commitment to Mrs. Obama’s call. We began our day at 8 am at the JW Marriott nearest the White House where we had a breakfast put on by Share Our Strength, who were the organizers for this event and are working closely with the White House, along with many other generous sponsors. The enthusiasm in the room was enormous and contagious; the speakers from White House Executive Chef Sam Kass to high school principals reporting how having chefs gardening and cooking in their schools had changed the whole community where they lived were quite moving.

Just after 10 am we walked en masse to the gates of the White House and there was a great feeling of empowerment—a gathering of highly-charged committed professionals. Although we had to be checked out beforehand and our names were on a roster, getting through security with that many people took a bit of time, however, once we were on the grounds, we were allowed to walk about and all of us headed for the recently planted and highly-touted organic kitchen garden.

I was in the front of the herd, so I made it to the garden before the crowds and was able to take photos. (To see photos of the garden, click here.) My hat’s off to the gardeners who maintain and plant the grounds of the presidential house—the garden was picture-perfect. I had a copy of the original plan, which has changed, as gardens do. Peas were hanging full-podded on netted trellises; tomatoes were flowering and staked with wooden stakes; brassicas, chard, spinach, lettuce and onions were planted in tidy raised beds. Huge rhubarb plants and mints overflowed raised wooden boxes. I looked for the herbs in particular—and noted there could be more—in fact, I would lobby for an herb garden on its own! There was a large and lovely patch of blooming chamomile (which I thought appropriate for calming the world leaders residing inside!), flowering chives, Italian flat-leaved and curly parsley and basil, in addition to a large showy bed of fennel.

Fortunately there were a few apple trees nearby, with a water station, so we could cool off and drink since it was about 95° F. We were waiting to hear the First Lady and chef Sam Kass speak to us at noon, so at about 11:30 am we crossed the South Lawn to go sit near the White House. It was hot as Hades out there and we were in a large group, however the spirits were high. Both chefs and gardeners are used to sweating anyway.

The First Lady was finally announced at 12:30 pm and we all stood as she came out. She is much taller than I thought and she is very statuesque; a lovely woman, poised and well spoken. Chef Sam Kass spoke to us about their joint mission for healthy well-nourished children and planting and harvesting the kitchen garden. Then he introduced D.C. chef Todd Grey of Equinox restaurant and he told the story of how he planted a garden at his kid’s school, then the principal there discussed the positive impact it had on the children, school staff, parents and community.

At last, Sam Kass introduced Michelle Obama. The First Lady joked about the heat and then set upon discussing her Let’s Move! program which is all about getting our kids to exercise regularly. Then she thanked the chefs for coming to the White House and gave us her views and intentions on her initiative Chefs Move to Schools. She was very comfortable and talked about her girls and how Sam can’t keep them out of the kitchen. And how we can help to change the lives of many children, encouraging us to sign up to be paired with a school. There are nearly 2,000 volunteers already signed up.

To read more, go to Scroll down to June 4 entry ‘Chefs Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids’ by Sam Kass to read his report for the day and Mrs. Obama’s commentary and see a few photos. There is also a video to click on to hear what she had to say. Also check out and for more information. If you go to the latter and click on "Chefs Move to Schools" link, you can access the chef sign-up form to adopt a school.

Note, this article was originally published on the To read the complete article, and to see more photos of the White House garden, visit

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