MANATEE -- For 20 Manatee Technical Institute culinary students who are studying to be chefs and nine advanced horticulture students from Braden River High School, Tuesday featured a true farm-to-fork experience.
MTI students were given their own garden space in February at Braden River High School and BRHS students helped them plant squash, radishes, eggplant, spinach and various herbs in EarthBoxes, a product that allows for growing in soil without a garden.
In return, BRHS students were told they would get to sample dishes made from the produce.
"The MTI student's ultimate assignment was to prepare a healthy dish using ingredients they had grown themselves," said Deb Barry, agriscience teacher and FFA adviser at Braden River High School.
"We supplied the seeds and containers," Barry added. "Knowing that, as chefs, they want to be cutting edge with what they serve, we gave them some cutting-edge varieties like watermelon radish, which is red on the inside and green on the outside, and a new hybrid squash called dinosaur egg. They also grew basil, cilantro and chives."
MTI students harvested their crops and Tuesday prepared dishes for the BRHS students.
A favorite was Alex Grutzner's zucchini carbonara . Grutzner used zucchini cut in spaghetti-like strips rather than pasta and
made a sauce for it using pulverized zucchini, coconut oil, salt and pepper, bypassing the usual cream sauce that contains bacon.
He also mixed in other chopped vegetables and herbs, said Maura Howl, MTI spokeswoman.
Other recipes MTI culinary students came up with included squash chips instead of potato chips, fresh salad, eggplant pizza, spinach dip and even a duck-based dish using lemon basil, fruit and chives.
MTI chef-in-training Kara Varnadore made a salad using the flower on top of the squash with watermelon radish and beet chips.
"The MTI students had an opportunity to present each of their dishes and explain the nutritional benefit of the food they prepared versus the traditional alternative," Howl said.
The MTI students learned about the nutritional value of the food from Natalia Garcia, MTI nutrition instructor and registered dietician.
It was a life-changing experience for Stephanie Rinehart, 16, a BRHS horticulture III student.
Stephanie said she liked the unusual pizza using eggplant for the crust, but it was not what she was expecting.
"It was more soft and kind of fell apart when you ate it, but it was very good," Stephanie said. "He used a different type of cheese to make it healthy.
"Something I learned is that it is very easy to incorporate healthy living into how we eat," she said. "I try to eat healthy and this will encourage me to look for healthier recipes."
Florida's abundance of sunlight provides an ideal climate for growing year-around, including super foods such as the ones prepared Tuesday.
"People can look up how to grow the vegetables," Stephanie said. "Anyone can do it."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.