Be the Change – Cooking Up Healthy Lifestyles: Chef Richie

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Enthusiasm oozes from Chef Richie Hirshen’s every pore as he talks about the many pots he’s stirring. As garden and kitchen program leader at Sherwood Montessori in Chico, he’s passionate about teaching his students how to grow food sustainably and to create healthy vegan meals. The school’s recently released third cookbook, Grow-Cook-Share, has an emphasis on vegan cuisine.

When he’s not working with children at Sherwood, the former roommate of world famous Chef Mario Batali works as the corporate chef at Mooney Farms – Bella Sun Luci, in Chico.

art-0401-btc2At Sherwood, Chef Richie teaches every student in grades kindergarten through eighth grade how to take food straight from the farm to the fork. “Teaching these kids how to garden and then cook, showing other kids around the world how to make this happen, is one of my greatest joys in life and the purpose of my work,” says Richie.

Five-year-old Gracious Brown, one of Richie’s kindergarten students, says she loves spending time with the chef. “We make smoothies together!” Gracious says. “We put in vegetables, fruit and water. We grow carrots and peas! He teaches us to be healthy.”

Gracious’s mom, Brenda, is a teacher’s assistant at Sherwood. She says Chef Richie gets children to try foods their parents can’t. “They all love Chef Richie. They try the food because they plant it, water it, harvest it, and cook it.”

Chef Richie presented Grow-Cook-Share at the Greenie Awards last month at CSU, Chico’s This Way to Sustainability XI Conference alongside Sherwood Montessori’s director, Michelle Yezbick. “The Greenies” honor school programs and students involved who are making a difference in the sustainability of communities. Sherwood’s organic school garden, farmers market and culinary-nutrition-publishing program has won Greenie honors in the Grades 7-8 category since 2014.

“When I visited Sherwood Montessori in February I saw first-hand the excitement in the students because of Richie Hirshen’s vision, dedication and love of what he’s doing in teaching the students about food,” says Teri Randolph of CSU, Chico’s Institute for Sustainable Development. “The sheer excitement the students had about learning to grow, cook and eat their own food was amazing to see!”

art-0401-btc3Chef Richie plans to present the school’s newest cookbook when he visits Italy this fall to attend Slow Food International’s Terra Madre Conscious Food Conference. The bi-annual conference is the largest of its kind in the world, says Richie. In 2014 he was there as the official Northern California Central Valley regional delegate.

We talked to Richie about his personal motivation and how he got where he is today. This is what he had to say:

What is your favorite quote/life philosophy?

My favorite quote ever is from Goethe: ‘Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.’ My life philosophy follows The Platinum Rule: ‘Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.’

What do you think is the most important wisdom to share with youth today?

Be gentle with yourself and everybody else.

What motivates you to volunteer in the community?

Improving children’s quality of educational experience, health, well-being and ecological awareness.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

My students being open to and happy about learning what I teach them, especially life skills in the kitchen and ecological involvement in the garden. I also love the joy this all brings to their families – parents, grandparents and siblings.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

I loved the vast majority of my childhood because of the love and independence my parents gave me, the traditions of living in an extended family with close friends, and the aware, open-minded culture I was exposed to living in Berkeley from ’64-’80. I’m still to this day very close with two guys I went to nursery school with – I just talked with one five minutes ago!

Tell us how you got to where you are today.

       I’m a CSU, Chico grad – go Wildcats! In 1985 I earned my BA in psychology, with an emphasis in child development. I then headed to Italy, and after that worked as a chef in the San Francisco Bay Area, Marin, Paris, New York and Santa Barbara. I returned to Chico in 2002 when I took a chef’s position at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. I started at Sherwood Montessori School in 2010, and I’ve never been happier than I am now, working – and playing in the garden and kitchen – with children.

  To contact Chef Richie, or to purchase a Sherwood Montessori School cookbook,
call (530) 828-8890 or email him at chefrichie@msn.com.

Skye Kinkade
About Skye Kinkade

Skye Kinkade is a fourth generation Siskiyou County resident and mother of four lively children. She enjoys being part of a close-knit community that is so generous and kind in difficult times.

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