My GrowingGreat + Manhattan House Experience by Stephany Fuentes

Stephany Fuentes is a student at Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale, CA, one of our partner schools participating in the GrowingGreat Chefs program, blending the science of cooking and nutrition to prepare teens for living independently.  For more information, email


Chef D and ECHS students (1)

Stephany Fuentes, far right, and fellow Environmental Charter Students go behind the scenes with Chef Diana Stavaridis at Manhattan House

When our Green Ambassadors Internship teacher, Sammy, introduced that there was an opportunity to volunteer with a celebrity chef, I was ecstatic. In my head I was envisioning Gordon Ramsay because that’s my celebrity man crush and his food looks amazing. Although I knew it wouldn’t be Gordon Ramsay, I definitely enjoy food more than the average person, so of course I raised my hand, eager and ready to learn how to cook.

Before the GrowingGreat volunteer recognition event, I thought I was just going to learn some new recipes and I would just learn the basics, like cutting up some vegetables and mixing it all together. Honestly, I thought the event would simply teach us that “eating healthy DOES taste good” but it was the total opposite – in a good way!

Walking into Manhattan House – it became real. It was nerve racking. I just remember thinking, “Gordon Ramsay didn’t prepare me for this” or “I’m really feeling the pressure now.” Once I was handed an apron, the adrenaline in me was going and I was ready. We were introduced to the GrowingGreat team and the Manhattan House partners, Jeff and Brett and Chef D. Jeff showed us how to set up the tables, how to serve the drinks, the beverage options the customers had, and also reminded us about the food policy and things to remember like not to touch our face or hair while we handled the food and silverware. Julie (our ECS mentor for this day) was there to remind us just in case we forgot anything, took amazing pictures of us, and helped us and that was nice.

Jeff separated us into table sections so we wouldn’t be confused on whom to serve. Even though it wasn’t too much to handle, in the moment there seemed to be so much going on. All I kept thinking about was Master Chef and the home cooks’ restaurant take over challenges I’ve watched on TV and I was visualizing myself in that position. Chef D had us help her set up the finger foods and appetizer plates. We added amazing skinless almonds drizzled in garlic oil and sea salt to the platter that included three different types of cheeses, concord grapes, in addition to the eye-catching nasturtium flowers that added color. We also had the chance to try the appetizers and it tasted amazing!

Soon, the guests began to arrive and it was time to serve the drinks. I was so nervous but I was ready. I really thought I was going to make a fool out of myself, like somehow trip or spill drinks on the customers but I couldn’t doubt myself. I approached the GrowingGreat guests and asked them what they would like to drink. I was so nervous and kept stuttering. As I took their drink orders and walked away, I was just telling myself: “Don’t forget their faces, don’t forget what they ordered, and don’t be rude.” I also took deep breaths. With Jackie, Yaqui, Carla, Adrianna and myself all placing the drinks orders, we had to try hard not to bump into one another. It was a rush. Soon, the guests began settling into their seats and we refilled their drinks as they socialized.  We began bringing out the appetizers and it was challenging to hold the serving plates and make sure the food didn’t fall. Of course, I accidentally dropped a piece of the homemade bread and salmon. Then we handed out flax seed crackers that were topped off with mushroom spread mixed with many herbs.

Next were the entrees. We served salad that included lettuce, corn, baby tomatoes, some peas, tossed with a delicious dressing. That was served with roasted chicken that was rubbed with orange zest and some other ingredients I can’t remember but it was so good. Everything made my mouth water.  After we were done serving, we all ate the delicious food made by the wonderful Chef Diana Stavaridis. It was a day full of new experiences for me. The experience of serving GrowingGreat guests at the Manhattan House was challenging, tiring, exciting, and an adrenaline-rush. We wouldn’t be able to experience this amazing opportunity if it wasn’t for GrowingGreat and appreciate the chance to meet the awesome Chef D and experience the real behind-the-scenes of a working kitchen! I’d love to volunteer again – everything was amazing!

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