Monday, August 8, 2011

Veggie lovin' with Vegan chef Marie Gonzalez

Marie Gonzalez has been volunteering in Mano Amiga Academy since it first opened in 2008. In the same year, she started Kitchen Revolution, a vegan gourmet food business that offers private chef services, in-home healthy eating consultations, cooking classes and catering. She earned her culinary degree from the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York and trained at Pure Food and Wine, a raw vegan restaurant also in New York. For nutrition month, Chef Marie spent an afternoon with the community kids to tell them why it's important to include a lot of vegetables in one's diet, and prepared them a vegan meal that no carnivore would be able to refuse! Learn more about Chef Marie and Kitchen Revolution at

About a month ago my good friend Lynn Pinugu invited me to share my vegetable love with the kids of Mano Amiga, a school that she runs in FTI Complex, Taguig. I had the privilege of doing just this two Saturdays ago on the 23rd of July.

To be honest, that Saturday was a pretty hectic day for me and an end to a pretty hectic week. That morning I held the Fantastic Salads class and immediately rushed to Taguig for Mano Amiga. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to teach kids how to enjoy vegetables! And boy was I glad I did. Nothing warms my heart more than to see a room full of kids eating healthy, vegetarian food (hanging out with cute farm animals comes as a close second).

Soy milkshake appreciation

Lynn Pinugu, headmistress of Mano Amiga (official job title: Institutional Development Director) is one amazing woman. I am privileged to call her my friend and we both share a passion for creating change in this country – for her through education, for me through food. And all, hopefully, with style :)

In the past, I have lent a hand at painting classrooms, scholarship fundraising by way of a dance-a-thon (yes! And I don’t dance!), conducting a book drive and book fair for the school library (back in my old corporate job with former work colleagues), bringing the kids to an Enchanted Kingdom field trip, and volunteering at some Saturday activities. Whatever amateur expertise I had at web design, I lent to the Mano Amiga Pilipinas blog. I wish I had more time for Mano Amiga’s kids!

Anyway, back to veggie love:

I started off the afternoon with bringing the kids to the school vegetable garden and explained that our food has to be as colourful as the world around us. A plate full of white, khaki, brown, and black food is not as exciting as a plate of food brimming with colors of the rainbow. Truth!

Mano Amiga’s veggie garden, aptly named Kinder Garden, was donated and planted by Starbucks Philippines by way of Zarah Zamora Perez. Zarah is as enthusiastic about urban vegetable gardens as I am about eating vegetables. The garden currently grows okra, squash, sili labuyo, malunggay, papaya, eggplant, and chives. Read more on Mano Amiga’s garden here.

We moved back to the classroom and I did a food demonstration of a black bean and seashell pasta salad. I had such a riveted audience; they ooh’d and aah’d at all the right places. Sarap to have my own veggie cooking show! Moving forward…

The dish was super colorful and that really piqued their interest – black from the beans, red from the tomatoes, yellow from the mango, green from the avocado and herbs, purple from the onions.

I followed the salad with a banana peanut butter soy milkshake which they LOVED. It was a healthy beverage that had zero added sugar. Of course, I included a brief explanation on the health benefits of plant-based milks over dairy milk. The kids didn’t have to take my word for it – they were busy enjoying their dairy-free milkshake.

Daniela, my pretty sous chef, developed a soymilk mustache which the kids all giggled at.

Well, we ended up sporting the soymilk mustache too!

All in all, a good Saturday well spent with fellow volunteers.

Merienda with Lynn Pinugu, Mina Herrera, Irene Balinao, Mark Brazil, Amor Herrera, Zarah Perez, and Jerome Gatmaitan