UPPER WEST SIDE — Who needs a microwave?
A city chef is challenging the idea that New Yorkers don't have the space to employ solar power by using the sun's rays to quickly whip up meals for local kids.
Anyone planning a day in Central Park, a trip to the beach or with a rooftop or outdoor space can use a solar cooker — which involves a set of mirrored panels that direct the sun's heat onto a ceramic dish — to make snacks or full meals, said chef Cynthia Tomasini.
On Thursday, Tomasini used that technique to teach students at P.S. 87 about the eco-friendly method, using a solar cooker to whip up a bunch of kale nachos.
Her work at the elementary school comes through the nonprofit Wellness in Schools (WITS), which is focused on improving healthy eating and increasing student movement and exercise.
Tomasini, 43, who is also a personal chef for local families, spends about a third of her time going to elementary schools in Manhattan as a WITS liaison.
With weather cooperating this month, the heat generated by the cooker when the sun is strongest — between about 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. — can melt cheese and soften kale in roughly 10 minutes, Tomasini said.
By mid-recess at P.S. 87, the nachos were going fast.
The students were fascinated by the solar cooker, which has flat panels that fold up easily. They can cost anywhere from $39 to $399 depending on size and quality.
"It's such a cool-looking thing," said parent Theresa Snider.
Seeing a tangible example of what solar power can do and getting to watch the heating process helps kids develop a deeper understanding of renewable energy, she added.
Tomasini also saw an opportunity in her cooking to include a lesson about alternative energy.
"I want them to connect with the outdoors and the environment," she said.
In addition to continuing her solar cooking projects at P.S. 87, which could involve apple sauce in the fall, Tomasini has also brought her cooker to P.S. 11 in Chelsea, another school featuring WITS programming.
Students at P.S. 11 are helping raise chickens at the school, giving them the chance to make solar-cooked scrambled eggs straight from their own hens, she said.
The lessons are part of a WITS program called "Cafe Days," in which chefs like Tomasini visit schools and lead a variety of interactive lessons.
In the past, she has partnered with chef Bill Telepan to do pickled vegetable tasting, greenmarket tours and chili tastings, said WITS development coordinator Reana Kovalcik.
"Chef Cynthia's Cafe Day project really highlights for the kids how food and sustainability are connected," Kovalcik added.