Since 2011, the Philadelphia superstar chef Marc Vetri and his partners in the Vetri Foundation for Children have been highly visible in 10 Philadelphia–area public and charter schools (and counting), introducing Eatiquette, “the Vetri Method for school lunch.” Besides providing healthy, made-from-scratch school lunches, the Eatiquette program coaches the students in how to enjoy a meal. They serve one another family-style, on real plates with real cutlery. They’re even given discussion topics for mealtime conversation.
But this summer, during a foundation retreat, Vetri and his crew decided that “Eatiquette is not enough,” the chef says. “There’s that saying: You give someone a fish, they eat for a day; you show them how to fish, they’ll eat for the rest of their lives. Eatiquette kind of gives them the fish. We also wanted to teach them how to fend for themselves.”
So this fall, Vetri will step into a classroom at an innovative new public high school called Building 21, to teach 25 lucky ninth graders essential cooking skills. For 11 weeks the students will participate in a culinary lab program that includes one day a week in a new culinary classroom at the Parkway Central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. At the new facility, known as the Culinary Literacy Center, Vetri will instruct students in everything from basic knife skills to butchery.
“This won’t be my first time in a classroom. I also teach a winter semester class at my alma mater, Drexel [University], but that’s to third-year culinary students. I’m sure the ninth graders will be more challenging,” Vetri says. “But if we can get teach these kids these skills now, and have them pass them on when they start to have their own families, then you’re talking about a whole life movement.”
Long-term, Vetri and his crew want to incorporate cooking into school curriculums, and use it as a tool for teaching math and social studies as well as nutrition.