Photo: Jerry Lara /San Antonio Express-News
Dave Terrazas is living a chef’s farm-to-table dream.
His domain includes a 34-bed culinary garden, state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen and technology-rich classroom space, all part of the expansion at San Antonio Botanical Garden.
Swiss chard, lettuce, a handful of edible flowers and other autumnal staples are at his fingertips right now. And then there’s the quinoa.
“You don’t normally see quinoa in gardens like this,” Terrazas said. “Across the entire garden, we have over 192 edible specimens (of fruits and vegetables).”
Quinoa is native to the Andes Mountains, long a staple crop for Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and other South American countries. It’s enjoyed a tremendous rise in popularity thanks in large part to its wholesome nutritional profile. And — who knew? — it grows in San Antonio, as well. Terrazas already has plans for threshing the harvest and incorporating it into a class.
And he’ll have plenty of opportunity.
The facilities will host a wide range of food-and nutrition-centric classes via a partnership with the Culinary Health Education for Families (CHEF) program funded by the Goldsbury Foundation.
“Our overarching goal is to integrate botany, horticulture and culinary arts and sciences into a cohesive program,” Terrazas said. “We are going to do everything we possibly can to show how things get from the garden to plate.”
Connie Swann, marketing chief for the botanical garden, said about 75 percent of the culinary programming will be focused on teaching healthy recipes, but not at gourmet prices or difficulty level.
Featured ingredients will be familiar, affordable and available in most grocery stores. Recipes will be easy to understand and to execute without dedicating a full day to the kitchen.
The botanical garden has been holding cooking classes since Terrazas joined the staff last October, and existing programming will continue at the new facility when it opens.
Most of the culinary classes are designed for adults and priced at $25. The CHEF program, aimed at parents and their children, also is priced at $25 per class. Other programming through the end of the year ranges from $15 to $30 per class. A weeklong chef camp for children ages 9 to 18 is available in the summer for $200. Botanical garden members receive a 10 percent discount on class prices.
“We want to make sure we’re engaging the next generation of stewards of the environment to understand the land and why plants are important in their lives,” Swann said. We “want to make sure families understand where fresh food comes from and how to create healthy recipes at home.”
It’s a mission in line with broader regional health initiatives. Obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases linked to diet are cited as an ongoing concern in the Bexar County-based Health Collaborative’s 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment report.
Jennifer Herriott, assistant director for the Metropolitan Health District’s Community Health Division, said her agency also partners with the CHEF program, and that the classes offered at the botanical garden through CHEF can contribute to better health outcomes for area residents.
“If people understand the impact that eating healthy foods and vegetables can have on their sense of well being, then they will hopefully chose to make healthier choices,” Herriott said. “It’s a great approach to preventing illness when we can prevent people from becoming overweight and becoming diabetic.”
While health may be an undercurrent through much of the culinary programming, hard-core foodies will have plenty to celebrate as well.
The popular arOMa series, which incorporates aromatherapy-based mindfulness and recipes built around those smells, will continue to meet monthly. A recent session found students learning how to prepare a feast of roast pork tenderloin with plum sauce and herbed vegetables. Pumpkin mousse over a tuile cookie provided a sweet finish.
Standalone sessions aimed at pairing beer and ciders with roasted meat and fruit, preparing elegant appetizers, hosting your first Thanksgiving meal and holiday baking all are slated in the coming weeks. Terrazas’ weakness for refreshing bubbly beverages will be incorporated into many of those classes and will be the singular focus of his Sprouts and Spritzers course in December.
The kitchen itself has plenty to inspire enthusiastic home cooks. A double-deck oven integrates with mobile devices. Dishes can be given a perfect bubbly brown finish under a high-heat broiler known as a salamander in professional kitchens.
And it’s an efficient operation, powered by a 99-panel solar array atop the pavilion where the kitchen is housed. Plants will be nurtured in part from a 29,000-gallon rainwater cistern.
As much as the facility and its mission appeals to Terrazas’ culinary inclinations, it also resonates with his previous life in the Air Force and as a Homeland Security Department intelligence analyst.
Nearly two decades of international assignments introduced him to a global palate of flavors. It also taught him the role food plays in security; specifically, how hunger can fuel the environment in which terrorism thrives.
In his new role, Terrazas is very much an army of one. But that doesn’t mean he’ll work alone. Volunteers, interns from culinary schools, visiting chefs and others all will help create a flavorful learning environment for class participants.
“I need help. I’m one person. I provide the space for a program like this where we can bring in people who want to help,” Terrazas said. “The community becomes the sous chefs.”
For information about upcoming classes, volunteer opportunities and the new facilities at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, visit sabot.org.