A Garden of Opportunity
On a whim, Adam Brick, chef de cuisine at Apis Restaurant & Apiary, stopped by his childhood alma mater, the Austin Montessori School. Always on the lookout for fresh ingredients to serve at Apis, which is located in Spicewood, Texas, Chef Brick was inspired to stop as he drove into Austin because he spied the school’s lush garden.
During his impromptu visit, Chef Brick reconnected with Veronique Mareen, one of his former instructors who still teaches at the school. As the two conversed, he shared his admiration for the garden’s robust vegetables and striking flowers, and explained that the restaurant uses fresh ingredients, like honey produced by its own honeybees.
“I would love to be a customer,” Chef Brick recalls saying to Mareen this past spring. Since then, a partnership has flourished—one that encourages experiential learning and sustainable practices in both the garden and the school.
“I was so excited to be involved with this,” says Taylor Hall, the chef and co-owner of Apis. The opportunity for an educational partnership roused particular enthusiasm from Chef Hall and his wife, co-owner Casie Hall, who has a degree in teaching.
The partnership was also received with enthusiasm from students in the school’s Adolescent Community, who range in ages from 12 to 15 years. “There are a lot of opportunities for students to become managers in areas where they feel a special connection,” Mareen explains, adding that the program is structured around a 3-year cycle.
The school designated three seventh-graders to serve as garden managers—Miles Adams, Isaac “Squeaky” Buentipo, and Owen McWilliams.
“It was just a natural feel, and I think all of us felt that connection,” McWilliams says of their attraction to the garden. The three student managers work with Chef Brick to develop sustainability plans, create harvesting timelines, and ensure they receive payment for their crops.
“They’re the point of contact,” Brick says. “They call me and tell me what’s available this week, and they write invoices. It’s good.”
Apis and Austin Montessori School Adolescent Community quickly established mutual trust and expanded the partnership to include student participation in the restaurant’s first Farm Feature Dinner event, which was held in early April. More than a dozen students greeted guests at the front of the house, cooked and plated food in the kitchen, and served meals in the dining room. “Plating the food was a lot of fun,” Adams says of his experience in the Apis kitchen. “I really liked just being a part of a very popular restaurant and knowing that stuff I did really mattered.”
Participating students had a head start on working in foodservice. In order to cook in the school’s commercial kitchen, students are required by law to take an official food-handlers training course.
“The coolest thing was being in the kitchen with the kids, seeing their excitement and [eagerness] to learn and absorb as much as they could,” Chef Hall says.