Root to Tip a winner with students

Issue: Volume 98, Number 16

Posted: 12 September 2019
Reference #: 1H9yZG

A nationwide cooking competition may see young competitors fry up vegetable peelings as a crisp tasty garnish or make pesto from carrot tops – all in a quest for delicious food and waste minimisation.

Tasmin and Kerah travelled from Hawea Flat School to cook volcanic vegetable roast using vegetables from their own and neighbours’ gardens.

The kitchen at WelTec was buzzing recently, with teams of Year 5 and 6 students making magic with vegetables – from root to tip.

Twelve teams of two students, who won regional finals from 256 entries around New Zealand, were competing in the Rabobank New Zealand Root to Tip cooking competition, which is now in its second year. 

The competition challenges students to create a two-course plant-based meal from ‘root to tip’, using seasonal produce sourced locally from family, community or school gardens, while leaving little or no waste.

Victoria Bernard is Garden to Table’s programme coordinator for Wellington City and says that the competitors are phenomenal cooks who develop and cook recipes well beyond their years. 

“It’s unbelievable what the kids cook. I can’t even articulate how impressive it is,” she says. 

“They get extra points if they do something like use the carrot tops or the peelings. They have to use seasonal produce, but doing something extra like frying the roots of the spring onion and making a kind of crispy garnish just pushes it to a different level,” she says.

A winning combination

The winning team, Rebecca and Tsion from Holy Cross School in Miramar, Wellington, wowed the judges with a cheesy green risotto and rhubarb and kiwifruit ice cream. The duo won a one-year membership to Garden to Table for their school, as well as $1,000 each in a new Rabobank account.

Waste minimisation an important skill

Head judge and chef Al Brown believes the competition taps into the creativity and leadership of school-aged Kiwis on the issues of seasonality and reducing food waste, while creating delicious, nutritious food. 

“The competition delivers some much-needed creative inspiration as many of us grapple with how we can change the things we do to reduce our environmental footprint, from having gardens at home to using all of what we have.”

His fellow judge, Jacob Brown from The Larder in Wellington, says many restaurants are looking at ways to minimise waste in cooking. He says the trick is to work at one thing at a time, do it well and then try something new.  

A first-time judge in the competition, he was impressed with the enthusiasm of the competitors. 

“If waste minimisation starts with children, it will flow through to the culture of the family. People can just start thinking about what they are throwing out and can it be repurposed? 

“Every part of the vegetable can be used and be delicious – for example, anything can be fermented and turned into paste to add flavour to food,” he says.

Tasting a dish in the 2019 Root to Tip competition are judges Jacob Brown, Al Brown and Catherine Bell, the co-founder of Garden to Table.

Wolfing down greens

Around the country, more than 180 schools are signed up to Garden to Table, a facilitated programme that provides support and training. The full programme is available in Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Wellington and Christchurch. 

An online option provides resources to get Garden to Table up and running in other areas. Schools can access resources and training through an online portal, weekly updates, and email and phone support.  

“We want a full programme to be available to all kids in New Zealand and next year we will be rolling out a new model to be able to manage more schools,” says Victoria.

Garden to Table schools harvest and cook produce from the garden, so it is seasonal. Their kitchen specialist will give them ideas about what they can make with it.

“Kids love it,” says Victoria. “We have evidence that there’s lower truancy on Garden to Table day because they love it so much. 

“There are two elements to Garden to Table. Children love the autonomy but also love getting grubby and being outside and they love the food. 

“I was at a school recently and they had made silverbeet quiche and kids were just wolfing it down. You just don’t see kids eating silverbeet like Garden to Table kids do.”

Rebecca cooked up a storm with partner Tsion to win the 2019 Root to Tip competition.

Q&A with Tsion and Rebecca, winners of the 2019 Root to Tip competition

How much practice did you do before coming up with the winning recipes?

We practised the risotto and ice cream more than 10 times, sometimes together and sometimes alone. We thought the risotto would be a good idea because we had made risotto in Garden to Table before and it tasted amazing. Once we had refined our recipe, we practised and practised until we didn’t need to use the recipe. 

How did you show that you had minimised waste?

We used mostly every part of the fruit and vegetables; for example, we scooped out the kiwifruit and used the skin as the bowl for the ice cream. The rhubarb, lemons and mint came from our garden. We didn’t use the leaves of the rhubarb as these are poisonous!    

For the risotto, we used silverbeet with colourful stalks. We used a variety of vegetables in the stock: onion skins, leftover parsley stalks, celery leaves, carrots and loads of herbs, such as thyme, oregano and parsley. This helped us reduce waste and create a delicious, nutritious stock.  

What do you like most about this kind of cooking?

We loved experimenting with different colours, flavours and scents. We wanted to reduce as much waste as possible, which was both exciting and rewarding! We loved cooking with our own produce from the school garden. It’s awesome to know that we were able to create a Root to Tip recipe using ingredients from our garden.

Hands-on learning

Ruakaka School has been involved with Garden to Table for about six years. Jennifer Hay is the coordinator for the school, which is south of Whangarei. 

The school is part of the Enviroschools programme ( and has introduced initiatives such as recycling, hens, a beehive, an orchard and a citrus grove. 

The school became a Green Gold Enviroschool a few years ago and getting involved with Garden to Table was a natural progression. Jennifer now teaches the programme to Years 4–6 classes two days a week.

Students work either in the garden with the gardener or in the kitchen with Jennifer. 

“The garden drives the cooking because everything in the garden needs to be harvested and cooked,” Jennifer explains. 

“For example, if we have a lot of broccoli or spinach, we might incorporate it into a quiche or scones. 

“At the start, the kids will come in and say, ‘I don’t like spinach, I’ve never eaten that before’, and we will put spinach into something like cheesy scones and it’s huge what happens. 

“The children now eat vegetables – it opens their eyes and their taste buds to different vegetables and what can be done with them,” she says.

The school’s caretaker, who is the Garden to Table garden specialist, is passionate about organic gardening and saving seeds, so Ruakaka School’s garden has become sustainable, with children making compost and planting the saved seeds. 

“It’s a fabulous programme and should really be in every school. The children just love it because there’s no academic pressure, it’s hands-on and produces tangible results,” says Jennifer.

Curriculum resources

Established in 2008, Garden to Table now works with thousands of Kiwi primary-school-aged children, helping them discover a love for fresh food and the skills they need to grow and cook it. The programme is curriculum-integrated and provides realworld learning opportunities outside the classroom.

The programme links to The New Zealand Curriculum: health and physical education, which focuses on the wellbeing of students, of other people and of society; and education for sustainability which connects to the principle ‘Environmental health is personal health’. 

Garden to Table produces curriculum-linked resources that cover every curriculum area and fall into the categories of growing, decomposition, culture, kitchen chemistry, pollination, seasons and cuisine. 

Curriculum resources include the following:

  • Rude food: the weird, wonderful (and disgusting) things that vegetables do to the body, with a focus on the health and physical education strand.
    It follows the journey of food through the body.
  • Designing a garden: using maths and scale drawings to design a garden space.
  • Food miles: analysing a recipe and using a food miles calculator to work out where ingredients have travelled from to get to your plate.
  • The Allergy Café: a drama unit exploring food allergies where students play cafés and have to design menus to accommodate food allergies. A similar one examines religious food rules and helps students make changes to dishes to accommodate these.
  • Lessons on worm farms, decomposition, writing poems about compost, investigating invertebrates.
  • A Matariki resource using a maramataka (Māori lunar calendar) to plan the timing of garden activities.
  • Using a tomato harvest to investigate estimating and measuring, weight, circumference and seed-saving.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:31 am, 12 September 2019

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