I’m Patrick Caulfield, the current head chef-educator of the student kitchen at the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School (@baltimoremontessoricooks). We are a K-8 school with just under 400 students in the Station North/Greenmount West neighborhood. A few blocks away from Baltimore’s Penn Station, BMPCS serves students from 27 zip codes in the city. The school is free; families apply for spots each year through a lottery system.
The Baltimore Montessori Teaching Kitchen
When I arrived here as a part-time Americorps service-member six years ago, the school was only a few years old, having been reincarnated from the original Mildred Monroe Elementary school. In the interim between its identities as public schools, the building saw use both as a homeless shelter and also as the set for the school in Season 4 of the TV drama The Wire.
If you live in Baltimore, and are talking to someone from out of town, the conversation inevitably goes something like this: “Oh yeah, Baltimore is nice… the Inner Harbor… Federal Hill/Fells Point is cool. Haven’t seen much more than that. Is it anything like the Wire?”
It’s probably for the best that I hadn’t watched Season 4 of The Wire before taking the job. I may have seen my fate in Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski, the erstwhile Baltimore City Police Officer turned schoolteacher with ambitions of reaching children before they fall into the quagmire of the criminal justice system. But those who live here know that the hardened portrait of the fictional Baltimore of The Wire is painted with a selective brush; that the city is full of creativity, community, and great food. And while it’s identity as a public charter invites critique from hardline public-school advocates, the student and staff population at BMPCS reflects the diversity of a city with many colors.
Fictional students goofing on The Wire outside my real-life classroom
My first years at the school under the wing of the founder of the program, Denzel Mitchell, were chaotic and magical. I wasn’t Prezbylewski, but when Denzel walked away, I was a still just a tall white guy in what was often a majority black classroom. I did, however, have one secret weapon to reach across cultural and racial boundaries: serious, down-home cooking, and a diverse cast of dedicated volunteers, as well as restaurant-industry cooks and chefs to back me up.
Miss Saundra with a student in our garden
In the years before I came, loaded up with new school rocket fuel, principal and visionary Allison Shecter had already ordered the excavation of a large parking lot for use as a green schoolyard landscape, with space for a full vegetable garden, fruit trees, and large native rain garden, among other living systems. Part of my job was to make sure those dreams were realized and to share them with the students.
I’m proud to say that more than half a decade later, BMPCS continues to engage students in all of these living systems, including our chicken coop, which provides fresh eggs for use in the student kitchen. Each day, students bring the eggs in from the nest boxes in their recess yard with a sense of wonderment and ownership, carrying on the active link between our outdoor environment and the work we do in the building.
Honey from our beehive
Students with eggs from our chickens
People are often surprised (and sometimes terrified) that we give 8-inch chef’s knives to third graders. But we’ve been doing it every day for six years, and to date, it has been adult volunteers who have come away with the deepest kitchen battle scars. It’s also the adult volunteers who make our program run smoothly, so we try to keep them off the DL. In the tradition of Maria Montessori, we take great care in structuring the environment so that students feel supported and safe, as well as liberated to exercise their innate curiosity and creativity. The kitchen is a great place to do that.
Colin working some portobellos on the flat-top
When Chef Denzel left to become a full-time farmer 4 years ago, he handed over a torch that I have tried to carry with reverence and vigor. Today, Tuesday through Friday, the all-vegetarian BMPCS kitchen program sees a variety of students grades 3-8, in groups of 8-20 students at a time. The children come down during their normal class time in one-week intensives, so the sessions in the kitchen are a special privilege.
As for the hands-on education students receive, we stress fundamentals, cleanliness, safety, teamwork, and, of course, the deliciousness and presentation of each dish. On any given day, students might be expected to prepare a mirepoix, handmade pappardelle, stir-fry, pumpkin pie from scratch, dark vegetable stock, or maybe just some applesauce with our favorite Reid’s Orchards apples. More recently, we also might ask them to prepare eggs sous-vide for special garden soup… which brings me to the newest addition to our arsenal of kitchen gadgets: the Nomiku immersion circulator.
Cailin preparing eggs for a hot-water bath
The Nomiku has given us a chance to continue to do what we do best in the BMPCS student kitchen: to bring out the innate flavors of fresh, whole, delicious ingredients. Today, I’m sharing a recipe that comes from our garden and utilizes the Nomiku to prepare a special 1-hour rice egg. Throughout the autumn and winter, we always dedicate one day a week to preparing a hearty seasonal soup. On those days there always seem to be more visitors in the kitchen, as the smells of the simmering stock and roasted vegetables curl up through the hallways of the school, beckoning students and staff alike.
A deep, aromatic, roasted vegetable soup can make one feel at home anywhere. We always use seasonal vegetables, and in this recipe, we are able to find many of them in our garden. As a teaching tool, this recipe incorporates ample opportunities for students to work with the chef’s knife as well as a variety of cooking skills including sauteing and roasting.
At the beginning of each year, at the end of my introductory all-staff email, I always invite teachers to come down and try a fresh egg from the chickens and compare it to one from the supermarket, if they haven’t had the experience. Once you have had a farm egg, it’s hard to go back. As for the vegetables, feel free to modify to your taste. The recipe is built to be variable; anything fresh that roasts well works.
Though chicken stock also works well for a soup of this nature, we make a delicious, rich brown stock in the Montessori student kitchen. Because there are many stock recipes online, I won’t go into detail on that here. Find something that works for you.
At BMPCS, we use our Zojirushi rice cooker almost every day. We cook with a nice Japanese, medium grain brown rice. Use your preferred method to prepare rice, fluff, and set aside.
1-Hour Rice Egg
A few years back, one of my students tipped me off to an innovative method to prepare eggs from the Netflix series Mind of a Chef, and we’ve modified the technique to suit our needs (Thanks David Chang/Momofuku). The rice adds carbohydrates to the nutritious, and protein-rich egg, so sometimes I make big batches of these eggs and just hand them out to students who need a snack.
Fire up the Nomiku to your ideal egg temperature (You can try Dave Arnold’s Sous-vide Egg Guide or Nomiku’s handy egg chart). My students like a 67 degree egg. If you haven’t noticed, children are extremely sensitive to food texture. This one is not too runny, but still golden and delicious inside.
Grab a small (4-6” diameter) mixing bowl. Drape some restaurant grade cling wrap over the surface loosely, so that the cling wrap hangs down into the bowl.
Drop a ¼ tsp olive oil where the cling wrap settles into the bottom of the bowl and spread so that it covers the cling wrap fully. Think of this as “oiling” your muffin tin.
Now we can add the contents of the 1-hour rice egg. Flatten about a Tablespoon of rice on the bottom of the oiled, cling-wrapped bowl.
Crack an egg over the rice and then gather up the cling wrap around the contents. Tie off with butcher’s twine and drop into the circulation bath.
Allow to cook for 1-hr.
Roasted Vegetables and Squash Bowl
Preheat Oven 400 Fahrenheit
Rinse, and chop vegetables into bite-sized pieces
Toss with Olive oil and light salt
At this time, you can also hollow out a squash bowl to roast off until golden brown (but not too mushy)
Roast until golden brown
Roasting off the squash bowl
Again, for kids, it’s all about texture. Of the cornucopia of ingredients we work with, mushrooms seem to invite the most scrutiny from my students. Being a vegetarian kitchen, however, leaves a hole in the deep, umami, protein flavor profile department. So, over the years, I’ve found a way to reach the haters. What I’ve realized is that for the most part, kids think of mushrooms as the slimy, greasy mushrooms they pick off a slice of pizza. Instead, we work with shiitakes grown for us by a parent at the school. Plucking them right from the log, we crisp them off in oil. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to vegetarian bacon.
Remove stems by hand (they can be used to great effect in stock)
Wipe mushroom caps with a clean cotton cloth
Slice into ¼ inch strips
Cover the bottom of a cast iron or heavy skillet with ample olive oil and bring up to medium-high heat
Sear off the shiitakes on both sides until golden brown, salt, and then cook on low heat for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally so that they do not burn. You want to get a significant amount of the water out of the strips, ending up with a delicious, crispy mushroom chicarrone.
Time to make the magic happen.
Plate your roasted squash bowl, spooning a heap of roasted vegetables inside.
Fish out a 1-hour rice egg from your circulation bath and, with kitchen shears, cut the butcher’s twine, slipping the egg out into the squash bowl. For a nice visual, slice the egg in half.
Now, ladle some of your rich, salted-to-taste vegetable stock almost (but not to the top) of the vegetables.
Top with a few crispy shiitakes.
Our students really enjoy plating with the edible flowers and parsley from the garden. Make it look beautiful.
This is a guest blog post by Patrick Caulfield, a member of the Nomiku community and a Baltimore school teacher at Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School who uses food and cooking to educate and inspire his students.
Make sure to follow BMPCS on Instagram to see more adorableness and get inspired yourself! And see their recipe here on Tender!
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