Emeril cooks up big news at Seaside

Lagasse Foundation grants $500K to Seaside School at Taste of the Race

By Michelle Farnham

Emeril Lagasse wants to get down to the meat and potatoes of education – literally. The famed chef stole the show at the fourth annual Taste of the Race fundraiser and culinary event March 2, announcing the Emeril Lagasse Foundation would be presenting a $500,000 grant to the Seaside School Foundation.

Emeril Lagasse
L to R Jim Richard of Word of Mouth Restaurant Group, Emeril Lagasse, Jim Shirley of The Great Southern Cafe

That money will be earmarked for the implementation of a new culinary-based curriculum, one the foundation worked with some of the top curriculum designers in the country to create. Plans also call for the creation of the 1,800-square-foot Emeril Lagasse Culinary Kitchen and Schoolyard Garden at Seaside Neighborhood School, as well as three additional classroom buildings and a performing arts center. Additionally, Seaside Neighborhood School – ranked No. 8 among Florida charter schools – will finally be able to expand to the elementary grades.

“It’s wonderful to be a local and support the local scene of what we’re doing – not only as restaurateurs and chefs. I’ve experienced (Seaside Neighborhood School) with two children. This is a very, very special place,” Lagasse said.

Brian Kish, president of the ELF, stressed the importance of refocusing students’ outlook toward food.

“These kids are going to know where their food comes from, they’re going to appreciate the food, they’re going to understand how hard it is to grow and prepare food,” Kish said. “They’re going to eat healthy and share conversation around a kitchen table again.”

Rick Helfand, chairman of the Seaside School Foundation Board, is pleased to see the long-awaited goal of adding younger grades finally coming to fruition.

“This is an amazing opportunity for the Seaside School. We’re adding grades K through 4. We’ll have a K through 12 probably in the next year-and-a-half or so. We should start construction in the next four or five months,” Helfand explained.

Event co-chair and local restaurateur Jim Shirley revealed that the foundation has been raising money to build out the elementary school as part of a grassroots effort.

Emeril and Jim Shirley
Chef Jim Shirley, sharing the stage with Seaside Neighborhood School students, said he thinks the charter can build a curriculum model that could spread all over the country.

“We’re three-quarters of the way there, underground and within our group. Now we’re publicly announcing that we are fundraising for this school,” Shirley said. “Emeril has this incredible vision for a culinary garden and teaching kitchen. We’re going to build one here and combine that incredible idea of everything that’s culinary is science, is history, is reading, writing, it’s math, it’s everything. Everything about cooking is education.”

Lagasse feels this shift of focus is an excellent lesson in practical learning.

“When you think about cooking, it’s more than just turning on a stove and putting in ingredients,” Lagasse explained. “What are those ingredients? Where do they come from? The equivalent of math to that: a cup, a quarter, a pound, an ounce, a tablespoon. Not only the mathematical part of that, but the educational part of that, the resource part of that. These children have a great opportunity, and when you talk to these kids, they’re super-excited about what’s happening.”

As part of the fundraising effort, longtime Seaside restaurant owner Dave Rauschkolb and Kish hosted a Raise the Paddle, seeing large monetary donations coming in from the likes of Spell Restaurant Group, Bud & Alley’s, Amavida Coffee, George and Ann Hartley, Geoff Chick, Dan Buckner, and Word of Mouth Restaurant Group, to name a few. Rauschkolb and Jim Richard offered dinners at their restaurants, Bud & Alley’s and Trebeaché, respectively, to higher-level donors.

Don’t forget dinner!

The smell of food wafting around the giant tent on Seaside’s Lyceum Lawn quickly reminded attendees of the 30-plus vendors waiting to dish up everything from Restaurant Paradis’s red snapper, cobia and grouper ceviche over a fried plantain chip; to Seagar’s New York strip loin with mushroom and madeira jus. amici 30A Italian Kitchen had both dinner and dessert covered, with warm Italian greens, Amy’s Meatballs, and chocolate chip and salted caramel popcorn cannoli.

Booth No. 1 held an extra-special exhibition when – for the first time – Seaside Neighborhood School students were on hand to present the ultimate in farm-to-table cuisine.

“We have made some dips with ingredients from our school garden and we’re here serving up some dip!” explained eighth-grader Emma Salinas. “This is our cold yogurt and cheese dip,” she said, gesturing to the tray in front of her.

“It’s Emeril’s recipe,” added classmate Knoxye Grinstead, as she stood next to sixth-grader Kingston Mixson and a platter of spinach dip with pita chips. “All the recipes are from Emeril’s cookbook for kids.”

Photos courtesy of Michelle Farnham