Phillip Lowrie discovered Edible Schoolyard New Orleans upon returning to New Orleans in 2016, having recently discovered a love of gardening. With 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry, and a great love of eating and sharing good food with people, Mr. Phillip became a mainstay in the kitchen classes at Arthur Ashe Charter School, where he has served for 3 years. Phillip is originally from Texas, but lives close to Ashe in Gentilly.
How would you describe what you do as a volunteer to a Pre-K student?
I come in and help chef teachers with all the chores that need to be done that they don’t have time to do, or need help with. A lot of times it’s the dirty work like picking up trash, washing the dishes, putting things away. Most of what I do is very easy, but it’s needed so that the teachers can focus on the students, making sure they are learning and participating in the classroom.
What drove you to want to give back to your community?
To some degree, working in the service industry is a way of giving back to the community. The whole concept of restaurants came about as a place in old Europe to places people could come and be restored to good spirits and good health via food and community. That translated into having the opportunity to volunteer and give back as an extension of that. It’s also part of my underlying philosophy of life. Part of what enriches us is taking advantage of the opportunity to give back to others. It’s an enriching process both for the givee and the giver.
Just as a footnote the word “restaurant” comes from a Latin root that means “restore.” Before restaurants existed, you had more Inns and taverns that had some aspect of food to it. That’s where weary travellers on foot, who hadn’t eaten, would end up. I try to keep that framework and history in mind when I work because people are coming for special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or they’re visiting from out of town wanting to experience this amazing city, and of course the big draws is the cuizine and the atmosphere in historic buildings. Service is a huge part of that, and can accentuate the experience.
What part of ESYNOLA’s programming, mission, or values speaks to you the most?
The goal of passing along healthy eating habits and healthy foods, but also to help kids take home and share that with their families, so that the kids become a conduit for the family to establish healthier habits. Hopefully, it instills in them not only a love for food, but this whole gathering aspect that’s a beautiful communal aspect of living. We miss out on that so much in our busy daily lives, so that we’ve lost touch with family sitting down and having dinner together. For students to be able to take it home with them in New Orleans, where so many of them live in neighborhoods that are considered food deserts, they’ve lived in families that are led by single parents or raised by older relatives so that a generation or two may have completely lost touch of cooking food from scratch and eating healthy.
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’d definitely put in some homegrown tomatoes from my garden. If I had a good growing season, I’d put some cucumbers in there. And also if it was the right time of year, some salad greens I grew as well. I’d share the salad with my grandmother. She and I were very close, especially in my teenage years. I have a lot of fond memories of cooking and holidays from her on Thanksgiving and Christmas. She had a big influence on how I feel about food and sharing food with people. Her name was Nina May Beard, and she was a Texan through and through.
What advice would you give to people who want to volunteer in the ESY kitchen?
Come ready to help in any way. Come with a smile on your face and a light heart. Be of assistance to the chefs so that they can shine and teach the kids.
Over your 3 year tenure, how has your perspective of the need for our work or the benefits of our work changed, or has it?
My appreciation of the need for the work Edible Schoolyard does has grown and grown. I came into the program having high expectations, and they’ve certainly been met. I’m constantly in awe of the program and I love it in so many ways.
If you could eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Breakfast tacos: chorizo, egg, & cheese. Or ratatouille whole wheat pizza topped with feta.
What’s your favorite family tradition?
Thanksgiving dinner. It was always at my grandmothers. Obviously, there was a lot of great food, but it’s also such a less commercial holiday than Christmas. As an adult, my favorite tradition is working on Thanksgiving. I love working in the restaurant on Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday to work because people who are there to eat are there celebrating family and friends, the communal aspect of eating and being together, and giving thanks and gratitude, and I love being part of that.
Is there a food that brings you back to a happy memory of Edible Schoolyard?
Ratatouille! I love it, and the movie. And it’s great for kids to learn different knife skills, because kids have to learn different cuts. Rough chop, dice, mince for the garlic, chiffonade the basil. And the movie is great too.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time with us?
Absolutely! The field trip to the French Quarter to my restaurant [photograph above]! As part of their 3rd and 4th grade curriculum, students learn about the various cultures that influenced New Orleans as a city and food. So two years ago, in conjunction with that, we brought a select group of students on a field trip to the French Quarter so they could see, observe, and experience some of those cultures. They toured the Quarter, saw some Spanish architecture, they saw the French influence with beignets at Cafe du Monde, they saw the African influence in Congo Square, and they finished with a visit to the restaurant where I worked, Muriel’s, and upon arrival we took them upstairs, out onto our balcony, which outlooks the Pataba buildings which represents some of the spanish architecture with lace balcony galleries. We told them the story of our resident ghost, who’s a Frenchman, and then they went into one of our private dining rooms and we served them seafood gumbo with house-baked french bread and butter. It was an amazing experience. The kids absolutely loved it, the chaperones loved it, I loved it. It was definitely an amazing experience, and the staff at the restaurant were blown away by how awesome the kids were.
At your retirement party, what do you want people to say about you?
“He was passionate.”