Interns use skills to build a better -- and more creative -- taco

This is the third in a series about high school interns learning to cook at Phipps Garden Center. Read previous weeks' installments at

The Phipps high school interns learned how to build a better taco last week, in class at the garden center, Shadyside. Preaching from this year's go-to cookbook, "The Flavor Bible" by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, teacher-cooks Kelsey Weisgerber and Will Groves outlined flavor profiles related to wide-ranging food groups. Mexican tastes were in focus.

The plan was to provide the seven students with flour tortillas and three basic choices (black beans, white beans, cremini mushrooms) plus three add-on suggestions for each base. That makes 12 ingredients so far. To keep things interesting, another 10 or so vegetable and herb options were prepared.

"We showed them how and let them go," reported Ms. Weisgerber. The first "how" was prepping canned beans and sliced mushrooms, all warmed or sauteed in olive oil in which smashed and minced garlic had been lightly cooked. A Phipps staffer was overheard to say, "The whole building smells like my grandmother's kitchen." And these students are just getting started.

The slicing, chopping, mincing, mixing and cooking began. There were tomatoes, red onions, shallots, avocado, carrots, radishes, chiles, a whole bunch of herbs, and peppers and cabbage from the students' garden at Phipps Conservatory, Oakland. Mr. Groves had an idea: thinly sliced cabbage slaw, salted and massaged with fresh lime juice.

Intern Lauryn Robinson from Woodland Hills High School got the point: "I really like cooking here because it's hands-on, it's fun and everyone is really excited about it. When we're all working together, it's like a big family."

It was time for each student to stack a taco with whatever had been taught or just seemed to go together. Most piled on five or six fillings. Mberwa Mada from Allderdice High School went for a multi-storied skyscraper.

Now for the test -- getting jaws around those delicious, flavor-packed tacos. But first came cool drinks composed of seltzer-watered-down fruit-vegetable-herb potions, prepared that morning by herb instructor Andrea Jackson.

Some of the favorite combos:

• Black beans with avocado, slice of large tomato or small colorful ones, chile, grated cheddar cheese, chives, cilantro.

• Cannellini beans with grated carrot, red onion, slice of large tomato or small colorful ones, big pinch of paprika.

• Cremini mushrooms with arugula, shallots, chives and parsley.

Freelancer Nancy Hanst:


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