Megan Brummer is lead chef educator at Samuel J. Green Charter School. Born in Colorado, Chef Megan received her BA in Biology at Grinnell College in Iowa, and then fell in love with New Orleans when she came to Tulane University for her masters in Public Health and Social Work. After a 7-10 years working in the public health field, Chef Megan started with ESYNOLA first as a garden volunteer, and over the last 6 years worked her way up to lead chef educator. Megan wakes up at 4:15 am to workout before school each day. She is a self-taught chef.
If you could eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
It would 100% tacos. I would be happy with street tacos in Mexico. Cilantro, lime, onions, chorizo. Oh, and homemade tortillas are key.
If you could share a garden salad with anyone living or dead, who would it be and what is one thing you’d put in the salad?
I would put sweet potatoes or butternut squash in the salad — a winter vegetable like that. I would want to have a salad with Leah Chase. I would like to hear what she has to say about being a chef for so long in New Orleans, and being a Black female chef in New Orleans. I think she’d be really cool to talk to.
How would you describe your job to a Pre-K student?
I get to teach kids how to cook, and help kids try new foods.
What past experience best prepared you for your role at Edible Schoolyard?
I feel like came to the job about of nowhere. Being a social worker and having worked with kids obviously helps, but I think the fact that I didn’t start cooking until I was in my 20s, and totally taught myself and fell in love with it myself has been invaluable to me because I feel I can see it more from the kids perspective more than other people. Cooking can be something so completely foreign, but you can start anywhere, and start with something really simple and feel very fulfilled by it.
Could you talk about how you got started, what your role was, how it evolved?
I started as a watering volunteer when I moved to New Orleans. I watered the gardens at Dibert and Clark, then I became a volunteer at Ashe, became an intern at Ashe, became a fellow at Green, then became a sub, then became an associate, and then became a lead. That was over the past 6 years.
How has your perspective of either the needs or benefits of our work changed for you over the time you’ve been here?
It’s changed pretty drastically. When I got into it I wanted to teach nutrition and make sure kids knew whole grains were better than refined, or to eat local foods, that kind of thing. I still believe in those things, but I see getting kids to try new things as more important, having kids feel loved–especially surrounded by food–as more important. Getting kids to cook anything at all, because food is inherently healthier if you’re preparing it. Also, in Family Food Night, I think a nutrition educational aspect is a good thing, but I think it’s more important that families have this time together to cook, and that parents be with their kids, and see what their kids are doing in school, maybe try a new recipe that leads to something else. It’s more of a holistic look at what we do, and I feel like it meets families and kids more where they are. Less of me putting my values on someone else. I mean, what is healthy in the long run? I don’t want to be counting calories with sixth graders. I guess I have come to value bringing joy more than bringing more things to worry about.
What part of ESY’s program or mission or values speaks to you personally?
Our mission is about making healthy connections. I think it’s the connections idea, especially with the community of learners in our classrooms, and all of our events, that speaks to me. The idea of bringing people together, especially in the political climate we live in. To me, food is the easiest way to bring people together, across all differences. If you cook together and eat together, you have something to share. Also I like the idea of cooking for people and caring for people. That really speaks to me.
Describe one of your favorite moments in class.
Impossible. There are so many. But one recently, we were eating “nutrient noodles.” Students were learning about how food is medicine. It was part of a seed-to-table unit. We were going to the garden a lot, and had harvested basil and peppers and eggplant, and we made some asian-style noodles with second graders. One of our students, who’s really into garden, said, “Oh my gosh I love this MEAT! This is amazing!” I asked him, “Did we get any meat from the garden?” and he said “No.” “So what do you think that is?” It was eggplant. He was SO happy that it wasn’t meat. Any moment when kids are munching on veggies and loving it is so good for me.
Also any Family Food Night. They’re always so great. You have teachers and parents and kids, and everyone’s so happy. You get to see another side of the kids, and they really shine when they’re showing their parents what they’ve learned.
If you weren’t a culinary educator and you could be magically granted any qualification or training and be something else, what would you be?
I would be a professional athlete. Maybe soccer? I would love someone making me healthy food and giving me massages. I get to work out all day.
What are your goals for the future?
I want to do this for a long time, but I’d like to establish culinary therapy program that could happen in a school. I’ve started that a little, but it doesn’t have a title or evidence-based research. I’d like to do my own research and establish a program that can get time and attention.
If you could be any animal what would you be?
Something fast, like a cheetah.
Is there a food or plant that brings you back a happy memory of ESY?
Green beans, because I remember harvesting them one morning before school, and it was so peaceful, and before the day started. It was such a great feeling. Now every time I eat green beans I think about that moment, that feeling. It was probably one of my first connections to the garden moments, too. I’m not really a gardener, and that was the first time I saw it could be peaceful and fulfilling and something that the kids could connect to.
I have made the ESY granola, or this one salad dressing we always make, so many times, and I still love them both so much. I feel like Katie and Lauren and Katy Jane and Callie and Emily — really all the chef teachers who came before me — I feel like they’re there with me, and I’m just so grateful.
What food or dish makes you the happiest?
Anything with a ton of vegetables. Anytime I’m eating a lot of vegetables I feel super happy. Stews in the winter. There’s this short rib beet borscht is so good. It’s this deep red with this dark short rib meat. You feel healthy eating it too. Anything with a soft-boiled egg on it.
How has our work changed you?
It has made me 100% more aware of inequity in this world and in New Orleans. That’s been the best part of it to come out of it for me. I was blind before. As much as it angers me to learn it I feel so much better knowing it, and what’s reality in this world. It’s made me better human, and more empathetic and patient to where people are coming from. That helps me realize that people might be coming from a different place each day, each moment. And it’s so good to be aware of that.