– Arthur Ashe Kindergarteners, circa 2011
Chef Katie Pedroza met a small group of Edible Schoolyard New Orleans staff and supporters at Arthur Ashe Charter School one spring day in 2011, as the school closed in on its final months at the historic Laurel Street school location. A brand new LEED-certified building at the former site of Bienville School in Lake Area Gentilly awaited Ashe students, and would include an expansive one-acre organic culinary garden and state-of-the-art teaching kitchen, modeled after the flagship site at Samuel J. Green’s half-acre organic garden.
Until that time, Ashe students accessed limited ESYNOLA programming because Chef Katie, ESYNOLA’s associate culinary educator at Green, regularly schlepped boxes of mixing bowls, spoons, blenders, and fresh ingredients from Green’s teaching kitchen, into her car, and then across Ashe’s playground on a metal, multi-tiered industrial serving cart.
Following her weekly pathway through the Ashe playground, Katie led visitors toward the main school building. Kindergarteners who spotted Katie stopped mid-play, and a handful of students stood up and bounced the merry-go-round, waving their arms.
“Chef Kay-tee! Chef Kay-tee! Chef Kay-tee!”
Graciously acknowledging this impromptu fanfare, Katie maintained her stride. Her leadership would support the expansion of Ashe’s garden and culinary education, where students and families also enjoy an annual Sweet Potato Festival, and the Emeril Lagasse Foundation Greenhouse provides plant starts to four FirstLine Schools gardens.
Katie’s rockstar energy flowing toward ESY continues long after her leaving to pursue a more communitywide education focus at Tulane’s Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine. She has maintained her role as Restaurant Chair of ESYNOLA’s annual Edible Evening fundraiser, using her populist appeal with local restaurant chefs and food business owners to host one of New Orleans’ favorite spring garden parties under the stars.
“I love that Katie thinks of broader connections for Edible Schoolyard New Orleans – other educators, sponsors, leaders in the food movement in the city. This is something she is uniquely able to do because she was a staff member, truly believes in our mission, AND is so well-connected in the city,” said ESYNOLA Program Manager, Amelia Bird.
Katie’s ability to corral in-kind contributions from hundreds of local chefs and restaurateurs over the past eight years has resulted in more than $1.5 million in unrestricted program funding, a key revenue source for staff salaries, classroom supplies, and special events.
Last spring, at the height of widespread individual and community panic about our health, Katie was brainstorming how to bring back Edible Evening in a way that would benefit both ESYNOLA and local restaurants, hit hard by the pandemic.
“Katie is an amazing volunteer who goes above and beyond her role to ensure the success of ESYNOLA,” said Development Coordinator, Courtney Pate. “She cares deeply for the local restaurant community, our teachers, and all of our students. It is always a pleasure collaborating with her for our Edible Evening fundraiser.”
Katie’s restaurant community relations ensured the success of ESYNOLA’s first ever home-based party, Edible Evening @ Home, bringing in more than $130,000 for student programming and more than $8,000 for family and teacher appreciation meals. She navigated this new logistical challenge while co-chairing the spring fundraiser for her daughter’s school.
“Katie P is the Executive Chef of ESY,” said Lead Garden Educator Zach O’Donnell, who coordinated symbiotic garden and culinary lessons with Chef Katie at Green. “Her ability to magically expedite all our EE restaurant partners is a feat that amazes me each year!”
Three cheers for Chef Kay-Tee, at the very least!
Hear, hear, hear!