September 2015 Archives

Lance Gilliam: Champion of Food Justice

Sandra Cook
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Three cheers for Lance Gilliam --  winner of the 2015 Mayor's Award: Champion of Food Justice. In the business world, Lance Gilliam has more than 35 years of experience representing retailers, restaurateurs and financial institutions with market analysis, site selection and transaction negotiation. He currently serves as a Partner for Waterman Steele Real Estate Advisors specializing in building and managing face-to-face outreach operations to build support for products, causes, issues and real estate market strategies to achieve tangible outcomes for clients.


With his background as the co-owner of the Cooking School of Aspen with his wife Jennifer, and his passion for philanthropy, Lance has been a longtime Recipe for Success Foundation cheerleader and is planning to donate the land for our Hope Farms urban agricultural project in the Sunnyside area of Houston. 

"I learned about Hope Farms in 2014, and although our proposed development in Sunnyside remains complicated and a work in progress, the commitment to include Hope Farms is an important one," says Lance Gilliam. "Hope Farms is an initiative that will bind a community with a place," he says. "It will connect people with land. Not only will it create jobs by training new farmers, it will offer a community the opportunity to experience urban farming at a scale well beyond what they have experienced before."

"Solving food access issues in our food deserts is so important on so many different levels, and it's really just the right thing to do," Lance says. "The only conversation to be had is how do you do it? Recipe for Success really teaches people how to access the food in a garden and how to use that food, how to do good things with it -- and make it taste good."

 HopeFarms_GlenB & Lance G_FOR BLOG.jpegGlenn Boudreaux and Lance Gilliam at Hope Farms site

He believes connecting people to the land is essential, "not only for the health of our families and children, but it's also healthy for business," he says. "Especially for communities that are lower income, solving food access issues is important for revitalizing those communities, not only on a family and individual level, but also in terms of the entire community."

Lance is a firm believer in the Hope Farms vision. "My hope is that Hope Farms will take food justice to the next level not only by providing a physical place for families to gather and get food from the garden together, but in terms of job training and creating jobs, it's literally like giving someone a fishing pole teach them how to fish, instead of just giving them a fish," says Lance. "Hope Farms will bring opportunities to teach folks how to farm and create an income and hopefully get them out of tough places, giving them new job skills, which is wonderful."

Lance champions for Hope Farms for the capacity it has to transform and revitalize the Sunnyside community. "This great community has an incredible history," says Lance. "It is currently home to about 70,000 people, most of them are African-American, many of them lower-income families. It's an area where there hasn't been a new grocery store built since the early 1970s. Although there's number of community gardens, that are important, but nothing on the scale of Hope Farms."

"My hope for Hope Farms is that it makes an impact that goes well beyond the property itself," says Lance. "And that it brings a brightness to the men and women that work there, as well as to the families around the Hope Farms site and really carries through their daily lives." 

Chef of the Year: Robert Del Grande

Sandra Cook
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Congratulations to Robert Del Grande of RDG+Bar Annie, our 2015 Chef of the Year! One of Houston's first superstar chefs, California native Robert Del Grande received his B.S. in Chemistry and Biology and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry before being drawn to Houston in 1981 by his (now) wife Mimi. Del Grande took a temporary job at the newly opened Café Annie, owned by Mimi's sister Cadence and business partner Lonnie Schiller.

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His adventure grew into a long-term family partnership and Café Annie rose to the forefront of fine cooking in the Southwest, garnering many top honors and awards, including the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest in 1992. In 2009, Café Annie moved down the block to its current location on Post Oak Boulevard taking the name RDG + Bar Annie, honoring the initials of its founding Chef and the restaurant that revolutionized Southwest cuisine.

But before all the accolades and the culinary career, he was a grad student who developed his passion for cooking, taking inspiration from the meals his mother and grandmother had served. His desire to share those traditions with his roommates - his desire to be near his sweetheart Mimi -- launched a remarkable career.

Robert says he's never felt more performance pressure than when preparing to meet a classroom of nine-year-olds. As a founding member of the Chef's Advisory Board he was instrumental in helping us design the curriculum and as a PhD in biochemistry he always delivers a lively and interesting class.

He generously taught in the classroom at Rodriguez Elementary for three years. Longtime Recipe for Success supporter Phyllis Childress remembers watching Robert Del Grande teaching students how to make quesadillas. "I was impressed that he chose a dish that they could relate to, while making a very healthy version of it." She recalls how Robert managed to turn this class on making a quesadilla into the 4th graders' earliest lessons in math, geometry, geography, biology, and physics.

"He talked about how many quesadillas (using burrito-sized wheat flour tortillas cut into eighths) he'd have to make to ensure that everyone there got a piece, demonstrating by cutting one, then showing the students how he had turned a circle into eight triangles, even how if you held two triangles end to point, you had a rectangle."

Every year Robert wanted to adopt the whole class and he and Mimi showed up with their arms full of holiday gifts. Chef Robert even hosted his student at his Uptown restaurant. The generosity didn't end there - Robert and Mimi have hosted many fundraising events for Recipe for Success over the years.

Robert Del Grande's more than 30 years of experimentation in the kitchen have made him a prominent figure in the historical revision of American cooking, as he has indelibly changed the culinary landscape with his expertise in tastes and flavors indigenous to the region. We are thankful for his many contributions to cuisine, as well as to Recipe for Success Foundation. Cheers to Robert Del Grande!

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Honoring Phyllis Childress

Sandra Cook
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Among our 2015 Blue Plate Special Café Honorees is longtime Recipe for Success Foundation supporter Phyllis Childress -- a wonderful woman who has been part of our organization from the very beginning. This former caterer jumped in as a Recipe for Success founding board member and has come through as an enthusiastic volunteer and dedicated fundraiser many times over.

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In preparation for our very first school year, Phyllis helped Gracie source and gather kitchen supplies for six kitchen carts for those first classrooms. Hunting down kid-sized kitchen utensils and equipment, Phyllis and Gracie scooped up whisks, spoons, lettuce knives, food processors and induction burners at Costco, Best Buy, Target and Restaurant Depot. "Wheeling those giant 'shopping trucks' around and loading them up with what we thought our chefs would need was an exciting exercise, both figuratively and literally," recalls Phyllis.

As a volunteer in the classroom she witnessed the transformative nature of our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™. "I realized that these children could see that their chef instructors were like rock stars. And the seed was planted: learning about cooking might be a career opportunity well beyond just becoming a busboy," says Phyllis. "Another great observation was watching the effect of these classes on mothers who had volunteered as helpers in their children's classrooms. Their body language clearly said that these healthy food ideas just wouldn't fly - that is, until they tasted the results."

Phyllis has also been a superstar fundraiser, hosting a Gala In Small Bites fundraiser every single year since those fundraisers began in 2005. Reflecting on the many Small Bites dinners, she says it would be hard to pick which meal and which chef impressed me the most. "But I will confess to a giant crush on Garth Blackburn, "says Phyllis. "Besides being a fabulous chef, he's so cute, and he's a great teacher (something I know about since I taught cooking classes during my catering days) - so, consequently, I've been the annual hostess for the Gala In Small Bites at his SubZero Wolf showroom every year since he came onboard with Recipe for Success."

It's friends like Phyllis Chlidress that have helped keep the momentum going for Recipe for Success Foundation over the past 10 years and will continue to fuel our future. Thank you, Phyllis! 

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Teachers of the Year

Sandra Cook
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When the bell rings on Friday afternoons, Cedar Brook Elementary teachers Hortencia Flores and Esmeralda Warshaw, Golden Whisk Teachers of the Year, are not packing up and heading home for the weekend. Instead, they are preparing to teach in the garden and kitchen with an eager group of students. Ms. Flores, who is a first grade bilingual teacher, and Ms. Warshaw, a kindergarten bilingual teacher, were instrumental in bringing Seed to Plate Nutrition Education™ to Cedar Brook. 

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Two years ago, when Principal Jeffrey Post asked his administration "about levels of interest in the Recipe for Success program, both Ms. Warshaw and Ms. Flores jumped at the opportunity to partner with and lead something as wonderful for kids as Recipe for Success."  Especially rewarding for both teachers is that many 3rd and 4th grade participants were their former students, resulting in a unique bond between the teachers and the students as they explore a new and exciting curriculum. Parent volunteer Rachel Stinson says that Ms. Warshaw and Ms. Flores are "the heart and soul of this program," and in a challenging environment of budget cuts, dwindling after-school programs, and time constraints, they have made it their mission to have a Seed to Plate Nutrition Education™ program at Cedar Brook.  

Ms. Warshaw was originally drawn to the program after hearing about its benefits, and after her first year teaching the curriculum, she was inspired by the "wonderful opportunity for all students to explore, discover and apply academic and social skills in real life experiences, making the learning relevant and meaningful to them."  She has seen firsthand how the students are applying their knowledge and skills in the garden and kitchen, and she is committed to encouraging them along the way.  Most rewarding for Ms. Flores is seeing her students "respond to the challenge of trying new vegetables and foods and their level of involvement in the whole process of the Seed to Plate Nutrition Education™ program.  From the learning of new concepts to the hands-on experiences in the kitchen and garden, they zoom and boom like busy bees. They really look like little busy chefs!"

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With the help of Rachel Stinson and another parent volunteer, Jacinda Woloson, Ms. Warshaw and Ms. Flores are embarking on their second year of the program and are excited to see how it further impacts the students and the school.  With the teachers' encouragement, the students have decorated the lunchroom with banners and pictures showcasing their activities. The signs have not only generated interest in the program, but also the students have become well known to their peers, and they are frequently asked questions about the curriculum and the exciting skills they are developing.  

Ms. Woloson added that the teachers have integrated their heritage and an understanding of cultural differences into the class and curriculum, and they have instilled trust in and boosted the confidence of the students.  And it is not just the students who have excelled and grown from the program; Ms. Warshaw and Ms. Flores have both developed new skills in their teaching repertoire and have gained new food and nutrition perspective. 

With the fun and informative environment these two teachers have created for the Seed to Plate Nutrition Education™ students, there is a lot more growing at Cedar Brook than just the vegetables in the garden! 

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October Recipe Challenge

Sandra Cook
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Calling all clever cooks! Get in on the fun of Chef Justin's recipe exchange! Each month, his tantalizing recipes along with his picks of recipes submitted by our readers, followers and fans - that's YOU! Try Justin's no-trick tortilla treat for a wholesome Halloween twist. What's your clever and healthy Halloween treat? Send your tastiest recipe to by October 31 and you could win the October Recipe Challenge and be included in next year's VEGOUT! COOKBOOK.  

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Spooky & Sweet Tortilla Cutouts

Recipe & Photo by Justin Kouri

These tortilla cutouts remind me of churros, but aren't fried! Using heart healthy coconut oil and whole-wheat tortillas, make this a fun and healthy activity to do with the entire family!



¼ cup coconut oil

½ tsp vanilla

¼ cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

5 whole-wheat tortilla

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Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Mix and set aside.

Melt coconut oil and vanilla in a small pot over low heat.

Meanwhile, punch out tortillas with Halloween cookie cutters. Lay out on a parchment-lined sheet tray fitted with a cooling rack. Brush tortillas with oil mixture, flip and brush opposite side. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and quickly sprinkle sugar mixture over tortilla, flip and sprinkle over other side.  Cool completely. 

UH & Rice partner on design plan

Sandra Cook
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Students, professors, architects and sponsors gathered in Rice University's Anderson Hall on September 17 to peruse designs by twenty University of Houston and Rice architecture students who created site plan ideas for Hope Farms, a new urban agriculture project by Recipe for Success Foundation. 


Hope Farms is the beneficiary of the first-ever joint effort to involve both nationally renowned architectural programs in Houston. Architecture students in Susan Rogers' Community Design Resource Center at the University of Houston's Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design, joined with Rice School of Architecture's Rice Building Workshop students led by Danny Samuels and Nonya Grenader all participated in the charette, which is an intense collaborative session to draft solutions to a design problem.

Hope Farms will be located on 2.5 acres in Houston's historic Sunnyside community, in the midst of one of the area's recognized food deserts, where the Foundation will grow and distribute affordable fresh produce to the neighborhood, train displaced U.S. Veterans as new urban farmers and provide jobs for area youth. The farm will include a market stand for the neighborhood, a community space for events and gatherings, raised beds for educational projects, a teaching and culinary demonstration space, orchard and much more.

Charged with integrating building and agricultural layouts to minimize energy use, maximize produce production and to engage the neighborhood, the students had to first consider the land and determine ways to draw in the surrounding community. A spectrum of creative ideas were presented, including aligning rows of crops to serve as a living, nurturing billboard for passing auto and pedestrian traffic and creating structures or pathways to visually connect two nearby schools to the Hope Farms site.

A host of fans for the Hope Farms project turned out for the student presentation including Recipe for Success Foundation Founder & CEO Gracie Cavnar and Agriculture & Garden Director, Justin Myers; Helen Bow, Assistant Vice President, Communications, Wells Fargo, which provided a sizable Neighborhood Lift grant to get the project started; Rudy Garcia, Texas Health Plan Executive Director for United Healthcare; Kelli King Jackson, Program Officer, Simmons Foundation; Nancy Bailey, Public Affairs and Communications Manager-Houston, Coca-Cola; and Dayni Alba, Corporate Social Responsibility/ Community & Education Investor, Boeing.


Professor Rogers and her students are excited to take the best solutions from the charette to develop the final site and building designs and during the fall semester will complete full architectural drawings for the project. "It will be a remarkable holiday gift for our Hope Farms  come December," said Cavnar. The historic collaboration between the two schools will continue as Rice Professors Samuels and Grenader and their students utilize the UH plans to begin the onsite build out next year. Professor Rogers is committed to building community infrastructure to support and promote healthier lifestyles. In 2013, her Community Design Resource Center collaborated with key stakeholders to create an idea book for Sunnyside that suggested urban farming as a critical component.  

Recipe for Success Foundation has inspired a broad coalition--two architecture schools, numerous corporate, foundation and private funders, veterans groups and community volunteers--collaborating to build a healthy future for Houston's Sunnyside community. For more information see our Hope Farms page

September Volunteer of the Month

Sandra Cook
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We are delighted to recognize Joey Luna, manager at Revival Market and Volunteer with Eat This! Summer Camp as the September 2015 Volunteer of the Month. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about his experiences volunteering with Recipe for Success.

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What sparked your interest to volunteer for Recipe for Success?

Joey Luna: I worked here at Revival before being a manager so I knew about the program and I just wanted to jump at it and I wanted to learn more about the inner workings of Recipe for Success. [Note: Revival Market has worked with Recipe for Success Summer Camps for the past 3 years and recently promoted the winning product from the 2015 Eat This! Summer camp sessions, the popular Figgy Piggies, fig-filled cookies.]

What keeps you coming back?

JL: The groups of kids -- it was surprising at how into food they were. My lecturing about butchery was kept to a minimum. It was great having the kids ask question after question about different foods, such as or "what kind of foods do you like?" and "how do you prepare this food?" or tell me "this is the food I like." It was really nice to see kids that young that they were that interested in food and already had a lot more knowledge than the patrons in our store!

What does volunteering bring to your life outside of the actual volunteer work?

JL: It gets me out of a working mindset. It was fulfilling to know I was just talking to the kids about food, not having to sell anything. You could see the excitement on their faces and they listened with open eyes and ears and gave a lot of feedback.

Do you have a favorite memory or story thus far?

JL: The unveiling party was a lot of fun! The kids were excited about not only finding out what product won, but they were asking me 'do you remember I came in with my mom the other day' and 'I want to try this [pointing at different charcuteries]' and were asking our Pastry Chef, Alyssa, tons of questions about how she cooks/bakes different items for the store. It was a great culmination of all of their hard work over the summer.

One last question, it's our 10th birthday this year, where would you like to see RFS in another 10 years?

JL: Well, I'm still a bit new to knowing the full reach of what RFS does now, but I'd love to see RFS in as many schools around the Houston area as possible. I feel lucky to see the elementary school down the street have a community garden and, being in the Heights bubble, I forget that not all schools have that. It's great that there's an organization like RFS that can provide nutrition and food education from the beginning to end, it'd be great to see that in as many schools as possible.

Thank you again, Joey, for all you do for Recipe for Success. Here's to 10 more years!



KHOU at Briscoe Elementary

Sandra Cook
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KHOU Channel 11's staff will trade in their sleek news desks and microphones for shovels and soil at Briscoe Elementary on Saturday, October 24. Their day of volunteering marks the annual Make A Difference Day, which falls on the fourth Saturday in October each year, and is the largest nationally recognized day of community service. Especially serendipitous this year is that Make A Difference Day also happens to fall on Food Day, which occurs each year on October 24 and is a celebration of wholesome food and a call to action to affect changes in food policy. It's great that KHOU's desire to help in Briscoe's garden amplifies Food Day messaging, and the convergence of both events certainly gives the volunteers and students a lot to celebrate!

The KHOU team will be tending to the Briscoe Elementary garden, helping students cultivate their produce. The Briscoe students will be participating in Recipe for Success's farmers marKIDS program this year, not only growing and harvesting produce, but also learning how to sell it, developing financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills along the way. For their inaugural market, the students will help build a wooden stand that they can reuse at all their markets throughout the year.

In addition to the market stand, the children will be replenishing their garden. With the help of the KHOU volunteers, four new raised beds will be created and 10 new trees will be planted to establish a mini orchard. By expanding the garden, the students will be able to have a much more robust selection of produce, and they'll be able to keep their farmers marKIDS stand open throughout the year, selling to parents, teachers, and other community members and having the opportunity to put all the proceeds back into their garden and market stand.

Helping to beautify the garden and commemorate the day in colorful fashion, volunteers will be assisting Houston muralist Suzi Sellers paint a mural in the garden. In 2010, Sellers donated her time and talents to MacGregor and N.Q. Henderson Elementary, and she will use the brick panels in the Briscoe garden as her canvas, painting oversized fruits, vegetables, and garden critters.  We cannot wait to see how she transforms the garden into a work of art!

A big thanks to KHOU for volunteering to provide people, supplies, and their time, and also for bringing their TV cameras so the excitement of the day's activities can all be shared with our community!

Call Congress For Lunch

Gracie Cavnar
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good school lunch(1).jpgIronic that fall hosts both National Childhood Obesity Month in September and National School Lunch Week in October. It was the sad state of school food that snared my attention nearly twenty years ago, eventually inspiring the launch of Recipe for Success.

Our school hallways were filled with snack vending, and junk food concessions crowded the lunch line. These efforts to monetize poor eating choices among our youngest and most vulnerable were having a devastating effect. A deadly epidemic was spiraling out of control, (30% of American kids are obese.) Those in charge had perfectly plausible excuses: we are just giving the kids the food they prefer and therefore eat; the commissions and licensing fees are supporting our arts, our scoreboard, our music program; this is the best we can do on our limited budgets.

As many as 12 million American children eat their only meals of the day at school and 32 million eat school-provided lunch. For decades, the typical fare, bursting with sodium, fat and sugar, practically guaranteed poor health for the kids who depended on it. Something had to be done. Congress passed the Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 with bipartisan support with guidelines and incentives designed to deliver more fresh produce and whole grains, low fat dairy and portion control. "Oh, the sky is falling!" Reports on tossed food and student lunch line revolts flooded the airways. But according to a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey, 70% of the kids now report liking the new food. And districts that were enthusiastic early adapters have already begun to see impact on student waistlines.

In August, the Kellogg Foundation reported that two-thirds of Americans say the nutritional quality of food served in public school cafeterias is good--even excellent--up from 26 percent from 2010, before the new standards. And 93 percent of those surveyed believe that it is important to serve nutritious foods in schools to support children's health and capacity to learn.

You would think we might have rounded the corner on this issue. But there were and still remain lots of powerful companies with skin in the game. I have learned that when a great deal of money is involved, common sense rarely prevails. Some $52 billion a year is spent advertising junk food to kids--obviously a large target market, and school lunch contracts are very lucrative. Don't think these companies are going to take huge slashes in market share with a smile on their faces. No, they are now spending billions to
promote "free choice" and softening the standards--a lot of that money is being spent on
Capitol Hill.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is due for reauthorization by September 30, 2015. As consumers and parents, we must hold the line and fight for what is best for our kids--healthier school lunches. Call your U.S. Representative today and insist that Congress stand up for our kids, not for deep-pocketed junk food makers.