Local Flavors Workshop: A reflection on a week in Mrs. Robinson’s Life Skills Classroom

The Coffee Cart
The Life Skills Class at Geneseo Central School is strongly centered around the culinary arts. They have a Coffee Cart from which they sell and serve fresh coffee and a variety of delicious cookies. The students learn entrepreneurial skills as well as cooking basics, taste, presentation, etiquette, and communication skills.

Developing Recipes
Preceding my involvement in the classroom the students worked to develop recipes using local (Livingston County) and seasonal ingredients. Each student had their own recipe to develop and to alter to fit their idea of good taste, aesthetics, and local-ness. Some of the local ingredients used were strawberries, spinach, Nunda mustard, Barilla pasta, Monk’s bread, maple syrup, potatoes, chicken, and more.
After the recipes were perfected, the students entered the information into the computer and drew images to accompany the recipes.

Artist in the Classroom
My first day in the classroom began with an introduction of myself and of the decal process which the students would be learning the following day. I explained to them how and what ceramic objects are made of, how to detect what type of clay something is made of, and the inherent qualities of each type of clay. I spoke of the iron content in the earth as well as in clay and many common objects (rust on cars, composite metals, inks, bricks, flower pots). This flowed into to the explanation of laser-printed decals.  I showed sample tiles that I made as examples of what the decal process can result in.

The black ink in many printers is made up of red iron oxide as well as other synthetics.  Iron Oxide is a fairly refractory material that bonds to clay and glaze at a very high temperature only attainable with a kiln. It is a great way to get a very detailed image onto a ceramic surface without distortion.
Each student chose two vintage plates, purchased from a local antique store, on which to apply their decal. The recipes and their accompanying drawing were digitalized in the computer and printed onto the decal paper using my laser printer. The students then soaked the paper in water, which released the ink from the paper, and carefully applied the images and text to the plates. I then took the plates back to my kiln and fired them. At a very high temperature the iron fuses to the glaze and the synthetics burn off. The results were stunning- vintage plates with a sepia-toned recipe on the plate, fired on for regular use.

The Commemorative Plate
The concept of the commemorative plate runs strong in this workshop. Traditionally, commemorative plates celebrate and pay homage to a person, a place, or a point in time. This person, place, or event is celebrated through an object- the plate. The very structure of a plate, flat center with an encompassing rim, suggests a frame of sorts and the semi-flat nature of a plate allows it to be displayed on the wall. Working within the tradition of commemorative plates contextualizes this project– we are commemorating the local ingredients in the recipes, our county, as well as the time and work that was put into developing the recipes. Many of the students named the recipes after themselves and therefore have memorialized their personal work.

The Tasting Event
The Local Flavors workshop finished up with a very successful and well attended tasting event in the classroom. The stage was set with white tablecloths and the plates displayed on plate stands around the table. In front of each plate were examples of the local products and ingredients as well as a silver tray filled with tasting portions of the food. The presentation was nicely put together, transforming the classroom into a culinary-gallery. The attendees were very impressed by the delicious tastes and beautiful plates. Cynthia Oswald, president of the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce, Lisa Burns, director of Livingston County Tourism, and Kathryn Hollinger, Executive Director of the Genesee Valley Council on the Arts, were among the guests from outside of the school. Many teachers as well as the superintendant and principal came to taste the food and see the plate installation.
A job well done Ashley, Larry, Tesla, Ashley, Clyde, Carol, Pam, Glen, and Kala!

This project was a huge success, our goals were met and we learned a lot on the way! Through the Local Flavors workshop we were able to connect the dots  between local agriculture, local business, sustainability and green ethics, ceramic chemistry, word processing, formatting, culinary skills, local and regional identity, healthy food choices, and entrepreneurial strategies. Cynthia and Lisa were excited about the ongoing possibilities for this type of culinary experience and how in the future it might be able to extend further in the community and the public. Perhaps we will see some of these local recipes in some of the Geneseo restaurants!
In the near future, the plates will be publically displayed, check back to the Buy Local/ Build a Future blog for more information.

2 Responses to Local Flavors Workshop: A reflection on a week in Mrs. Robinson’s Life Skills Classroom
  1. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
    June 15, 2010 | 9:24 pm
    Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

    These are beautiful! Oh my goodness…when I loved the recipes, I didn’t realize they were actually printed on real plates. Very cool. I would pay to attend a workshop to learn how to do this. Please let me know if if you ever teach one for anyone!

  2. Kala Stein
    June 16, 2010 | 7:52 am
    Kala Stein

    Thank you for your interest Amy,
    The recipes are fired onto vintage plates that I found at an antique store. We used a decal transfer process to get the iron-rich onto the plate. The plate was then fired in a kiln to over 1,000 degrees to fuse the iron into the glaze! These plates are even washable and safe to eat off of!
    You can add your email address to my mailing list on my website (www.kalastein.com), go to functional, then mailing list. There is a chance I will be teaching a workshop on this in the near future. Thanks again! Kala