University Chef Teaches Simple Habits for Healthy Eating

Chef and the Garden
George Washington University Chef Rob Donis and the Urban Food Task Force host the "Chef and the Garden" course each summer for the university community.
“Chef and the Garden” class focuses on the value of fresh, local ingredients and basic cooking skills.
June 30, 2014

By Brittney Dunkins

Members of the George Washington University community tied their apron strings for the “Chef and the Garden” cooking class, an eight-week course taught by University Chef Rob Donis during the summer. The course focused on simple farm-to-table recipes for novices in the kitchen.

The free, non-credit class was developed by the Urban Food Task Force following the successful “Healthy Eating” course that Mr. Donis co-taught with Urban Food Task Force Chair Diane Robinson Knapp during the fall 2010 semester.

“The goal of this course is to inspire our 30 budding gourmands to get comfortable in the kitchen,” Mr. Donis said. “Removing fear in the kitchen promotes healthy eating habits at home and enables participants to be less reliant on prepared foods.”

The students met weekly at the F Street House kitchen to learn an array of cooking and gardening skills, including seed starting and saving, preserving and pickling, knife sharpening, soup and salad making and other cooking methods.

Mr. Donis said that encouraging students to cook intuitively, rather than blindly following a recipe, is the first step to becoming confident in the kitchen.

“I encourage the class to think about the process of cooking and start with the ingredients,” he said. “From seeking out local farmers markets to starting their own garden, I try to teach them that simple cooking from your own garden or with local foods can provide joyous results.”

 Pictured: Spiced Roasted Rainbow Carrots and Simple Farmers Market Salad with Walnut Crusted Goat Cheese


“Every single day of our lives, we are faced with the daunting question of what we will eat. The tastiest, most self-reliant, financially beneficial and socially engaging way to answer this query is to cook healthily, lovingly and passionately at home.” 

-University Chef Rob Donis


The course is one of many university initiatives to engage the community in learning about sustainable food production, healthy eating habits, civic engagement and food policy.

The Food Day celebration held last fall featured a series of 14 events, including a discussion with former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, author of “The End of Overeating”; the Pop-Up Produce Market, which fed more than 110 families from underserved communities; and the Feeding the Planet Summit hosted by Planet Forward, a project based in the Center for Innovative Media within the School of Media and Public Affairs.

Most recently, GW partnered with the nonprofit organization Wholesome Wave to conduct research on food, nutrition and food policy, using resources from the Urban Food Task Force, the Milken Institute School of Public Health, the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Rodham Institute.

The GroW Garden, a student-run plot located on H Street between 23rd and 24th streets, produces 1,000 pounds of food every season in support of building a sustainable urban ecosystem. All food is donated to Miriam’s Kitchen, a local nonprofit that provides food and shelter to the homeless in D.C.

“Our students, faculty and staff are hungry for opportunities to educate each other and the public through the GroW Garden, the beehives and research performed by faculty,” Mr. Donis said.

GroW Garden managers and GW students Caitlin Troutt and Alex Simpkins stopped by the class on Wednesday and Thursday to deliver kale and green beans for students to use and to talk about ways to get involved with the on-campus garden.

“The garden exists to help GW students and community members to work toward a more just food system by promoting community, building relationships and actively improving the urban ecosystem,” Ms. Troutt said. “Working to change our country's food system can start with one small step— choosing to cook healthy meals with lots of produce!”

Members of the university community who are interested in volunteering at the GroW Garden during the summer can do so on Wednesday and Saturday between 10 a.m. and noon To get involved, send an email or fill out a form online.

“Every single day of our lives, we are faced with the daunting question of what we will eat,” Mr. Donis said. “The tastiest, most self-reliant, financially beneficial and socially engaging way to answer this query is to cook healthily, lovingly and passionately at home.”