Tag Archives: Kim Herzog

Students Dig Into “Food In Literature” Class

It’s a long way from Staples High School’s English classrooms to the culinary wing. And while English lies at the heart of every school’s curriculum. “cooking” — if it’s offered at all — is an elective.

But for several years, Staples’ “Food in Literature” class has been a popular, always filled offering.

Though it involves the stomach, it’s no gut. “Food Lit” is demanding. It forces students out of their comfort zones.

Sure, they eat well. But they also learn life skills. Like how to read, write and think.

And cook.

One student posted photos of her recipes. She’s as talented a photographer as she is a cook.

The course is a collaboration between English instructor Kim Herzog and culinary arts teacher Cecily Gans. Meeting back to back for 2 periods, they guide their students through a balanced menu of food and literature, adding a dash of whatever is needed to keep every day fresh and challenging.

It’s a master class in all the skills of cooking (following instructions, flexibility, time management) and reading and writing (critical thinking, analysis, synthesis).

The core text last semester was “With the Fire on High,” Elizabeth Acevedo’s novel about a teenage mother who feels free only in the kitchen. Students read other fiction and non-fiction too.

As part of their writing, they research and then produce an op-ed on a food issue of their choosing. Topics this fall included delivery apps, GMOs, food waste, food insecurity, obesity, supermarket “food deserts, gender stereotypes in advertising, sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, the overabundance of food on social media, and eating in the age of COVID.

Making connections over breakfast.

Throughout the semester, students choose themes that appeal to them. It can be a food based on their heritage, an important concept, or something that strikes their fancy.

This past semester, themes ranged from foods of Asia, South America and the Southern US, to challah, “picky eaters” and healthy trends.

Each theme represents a starting point for individual creativity. Students design blogs, which this year expanded to include how-to videos, TikToks, listicles, and “lessons learned” entries.

The goal is to experiment with different ways to engage audiences, while understanding the rapidly expanding world of food blogging.

Each week, the class features 2 or 3 students on its Instagram account (@foodlitshs).

Students post reviews too. They range from restaurant dining and takeout or curbside experiences, to a meal cooked by others (or themselves) at home.

Class members even learn how to write recipes. It’s not as easy as it looks.

The class ends with “menu wars.” Five judges render verdicts. It’s as intense — and tasty — as any cooking show on TV.

The menu for Menu Wars.

“Food Lit” students dig in to meaty issues, from Day One. They’re hungry for knowledge.

Is your appetite whetted? To see samples of Herzog and Gans’ students’ fall semester work – their blogs, op-eds, recipes, photos and more — click here.

Buon appetito!

Soundings Celebrates 75 Years Of Staples Creativity

The history of Staples High School is littered with student clubs that sounded like a good idea at the time.

Like the Rifle Club.

Proctors (who sniffed out classmates for things like smoking), and the Student Court (which then handed down punishments).

Fraternities and sororities. (Okay, they were not official clubs. But they got a lot of space in the yearbook.)

Many clubs reflect their times. One day, a club called “Girls Who Code” (2021) may sound as dated as “Aid to Biafra” (1970s) does today.

But for 75 years, Soundings has been a staple at Staples High School.

That’s right. For three-quarters of a century — more than half the existence of the school itself — Soundings has served as Staples’ creative literary magazine. It’s evolved a bit, of course: Photography, art and video have been added to the original prose and poetry. And it’s now published online.

But much else is just as it was when the first issue appeared, early in the Truman administration. Students meet after school. They pore over submissions. Then they design, lay out and produce a magazine that showcases the creativity of their peers.

When the staff realized that a landmark anniversary loomed, they decided to look back. They dug into past issues, stored in the school library. Individual students researched different years; together, members voted on what to include in the special edition.

Advisor Kim Herzog calls those back issues “a time capsule of student voices.” They show the great degree to which young writers are influenced by the times in which they live — war or peace, prosperity or recession, political fervor or calm.

In 1968, Joan Goodman wrote and illustrated a piece called “In White America.” The next year featured ’60s-influenced art by Jill Coykendall, and a poem from Elizabeth Hughes.

Writing styles too have waxed and waned. At times, poetry thrived. Other years, there was little of it.

Herzog was struck though by the “vast creativity” that spans all 75 years, and many mediums.

The 75th edition includes over 150 stories, photos and drawings. Every year is represented (except 1973, 1990 and 2006 — no copies could be found.)

The very first Soundings is represented by a poem about an atom bomb, a drawing by Ric von Schmidt (who later became a nationally known artist), and a lament on the lack of sex, religious, philosophy and political education at Staples.”

The first issue in 1947 featured art by Ric von Schmidt.

Co-editor Julian Fiore says that “this outlet of creativity that has survived through 75 years is certainly worth celebrating.”

Reading the archives, he met “young activists, storytellers, poets, artists, graphic designers and more.”

Stories were “wildly different.” One writer described sacrificing oneself for the one you love most; others wrote about obsessions and fire trucks. Each was unique.

The editor found much to relate to, including a 1993 piece about “A Day in the Life of a Junior” (he found it “shockingly accurate an incredibly amusing,”), and a much older story — from 1952 — about the problem with Staples drinking fountains.

The artist of this fascinating 1983 work is unknown.

“The magazines were full of true and and unfiltered student voices,” Julian says. “This showed me the complexity of our student body — the varying passions, perspectives and ideas that exist within this community.”

Nothing lasts for 75 years without a few close calls. A few years ago, for example, the magazine was ready to go to press. Suddenly, it was discovered that then-superintendent Colleen Palmer had cut printing funds from the budget. Then-principal James D’Amico found money for that year.

There is no longer any money for hard copies. But a Staples PTA Mini-Wrecker grant has allowed the entire archives to be digitized. Click here to see each volume.

COVID made this year’s issue especially tough to produce. Most of the work was done remotely. But, Herzog says, it was “a labor of love” by the staff.

To see the fruits of their labor, click here.

By 2014 and ’15, Soundings added color and photography. Those years are represented by Emma Moskovit, Bridget van Dorsten, Noa Wind and Caroline O’Kane.


“Food In Literature”: Staples’ Most Tasteful Course

COVID ‘s impact on schools is broad and deep. The challenge for every educator is immense.

It’s hard enough teaching math or social studies to half a class via Zoom. But what about a hands-on course like Culinary?

And how do you cope when a collaborative course you’ve honed with a colleague in another department no longer fits the new schedule?

Those are the challenge facing chef Cecily Gans and English instructor Kim Herzog. Their popular “Food in Literature” class no longer meets for long, back-to-back, discussion-and-cooking sessions. Half the students are not even in the well-appointed Staples High School kitchen.

Despite the obstacles, the teachers have cooked up something special.

An artfully designed plate, cooked and created by a “Food in Literature” student.

The semester-long course is intense and demanding. It takes students who love to write out of their comfort zone and into the kitchen — and those who love to cook, out of their comfort zone and into the classroom.

Herzog and Gans adapted the curriculum together. They balance the twin ingredients of food and literature, adding a dash of whatever is needed to keep each day fresh and challenging.

It’s a master class in all the skills of cooking (following instructions, flexibility, time management) and all those of reading and writing (critical thinking, analysis, synthesis).

Shrimp fra diavolo.

The heart of the course is a theme. Each student chooses something that appeals to him or her.

Many select foods based on their heritage: Italian, Greek, Pakistani, Mexican. Others choose vegan or paleo diets — even desserts.

They read core texts and food memoirs. They write about their own memories and associations. Then they cook those dishes.

They study restaurant reviews, and learn to write their own. (They’re far more in-depth, insightful and objective than anything on Yelp — or the local media.)

All along, students document their progress on personal blogs.

One of the first assignments: study your family’s refrigerator — then write about it.

Gans gives the teenagers plenty of credit for managing the many elements of the class. They all cook — though with social distancing, the usual complex choreography of a kitchen is even more difficult. “We are dancers,” she says.

But distance learning has its benefits. With time at home, students have learned to understand their families better, and celebrate their heritage.

Gans sees this in the stories they write about the role of food in their lives. She’s always believed that food brings people closer together. Now she has proof.

The chef encourages all students — novices and moderately experienced alike — to cook often at home. They’ve taken that to heart.

“This is a unique time in all of our lives,” Gans says. Documenting those memories — in part through food — helps everyone get through it.

A “food pyramid” exercise helps students think about the role food plays in their lives.

Herzog misses the chance to work personally with Gans. Together, they’ve watched students grow as cooks and writers. Now, the gap is bridged mostly by the blogs each student maintains.

She misses too the chance to get to know each teenager’s “voices and styles” as they work communally in the kitchen — and of course the chance to share the fruits of their labor, together at the table.

But they’ve feasted on the work their first semester students accomplished. Many of them have made their websites available to the public.

The writing is insightful. Some is pandemic related: food as a remedy during tough times, celebrating an 18th birthday in isolation by making Bundt cake; what happens to a refrigerator when a family member quarantines.

But there is plenty that is timeless: cooking with the senses; food waste; rising early to bake; Cajun turkey on Thanksgiving; using food to overcome shyness; the dilemma of a picky eater; the joy of ramen noodles when you’re sick.

Click below to read the Staples students’ blogs, food journals and recipes. Bon appétit!

Ben: A Little Taste of Home in Every Bite
Avery: Picky Eaters Guide: Vegan Cooking
Richard: The Comfort of Winter
Ty: Magellan
Nicole: Buon Cibo Italiano
Justin: Scorching Hot
JJ: Breakfast for Kings
Anooshka: Biryani N’ More
Lina: A Taste of the Mediterranean

Food For Thought

At Staples High School, students choose English electives like “Myth and Bible,” “Rhetoric and Persuasion,” and “Shakespeare.”

They can also take “Food in Literature.”

Sounds like a gut.

In fact, it’s one of the toughest courses in the entire school.

Also the tastiest.

The semester class — which meets back-to-back, for 2 periods — includes reading a smorgasbord of activities. There’s reading, writing, even community service (volunteering at the Westport Farmers’ Market).

A Food in Literature demonstration at the first Farmers’ Market of the season last month.

And of course, cooking.

It’s intense. It’s demanding. It takes students who love to write out of their comfort zone and into the kitchen — and those who love to cook, out of their comfort zone and into the classroom.

The class is a collaboration between English instructor Kim Herzog and culinary teacher/chef Cecily Gans. They developed the curriculum together, balancing the twin ingredients of food and literature, adding a dash of whatever is needed to keep every day fresh and challenging.

It’s a master class in all the skills of cooking (following instructions, flexibility, time management) and all those of reading and writing (critical thinking, analysis, synthesis).

The heart of the course is a theme. Each student chooses something that appeals to him or her.

Many selected foods based on their heritage: Italian, Greek, Pakistani, Mexican. Others selected vegan or paleo diets. One focused on desserts.

Pakistani food. The course even includes tips on food photography.

A boy chose “college cuisine” — dishes that college students can make — after he learned that his older sister was eating cereal for dinner.

Another boy — whose kitchen skills were limited to “eggs and ramen” — said he needed an English credit to graduate. “Accidentally,” he learned to cook.

The core text this semester was “Like Water for Chocolate.” After reading and discussing that food-based novel, students had to compose an ode to an ingredient. The ideas ranged from coffee and coffee cake to jalapeño.

They read food memoirs, then wrote about their own memories and associations. They followed that up by cooking those dishes.

Summer home fries look great!

Other writing assignments include research and interviews that lead to profiles of noted area chefs like Bill Taibe, Anthony Kostelis, Chris Scott, and Staples graduates Becca Nissim and Matt Storch. In the kitchen, they created something inspired by the chef they interviewed.

They study restaurant reviews, and learn to write their own. (They’re far more in-depth, insightful and objective than anything on Yelp — or the local media.)

One student’s notes on how to write a strong chef profile.

All along, students document their progress on personal blogs.

The highlight of the semester is Menu Wars. Using craft and creativity — while linking to their themes — students cook and create cohesive 3-course meals. They also have to write clearly and coherently about it.

Just before seniors left for their internships, the class headed to the Farmers’ Market. In teams of 4 they demonstrated recipes, based on local and seasonal foods. They spoke about what they were doing — because presentation skills are equally important in English and culinary class.

The course is as exciting for the teachers as the students. “I love working with such a wide range of experiences,” says Gans, who often teaches advanced classes.

“Two kids are going on to culinary college next year. But seeing the growth of those with no cooking background at all made me so excited.”

This English course will make you very hungry.

One of those boys wanted to drop out early. He felt out of his depth.

Gans asked him what food inspired him. “He realized he had a story to tell,” she says. “He ended up making chocolate croissants from scratch. That’s so much work!”

Gans also appreciates spending time in Herzog’s classroom. “It’s awe-inspiring what goes on there,” she says.

Kim Herzog (left) and Cecily Gans, with chef Chris Scott. The “Top Chef” finalist — who recently opened Birdman Juke Joint in Bridgeport — spoke to their class.

Herzog, meanwhile, loves collaborating with Gans. “Seeing students in a different, unique, powerful way — and how she gets so much out of them — is invigorating,” the English instructor says.

The course is now a mainstay of the curriculum. But — because every class is  filled with students with different backgrounds and interests — each semester has a different flavor.

Talk about a recipe for success!

(Click here for the Food in Literature class website. It includes links to each student’s personal page, plus all the chef interviews and restaurant reviews. And click below for a couple of bonus videos from the class. These kids do it all.)

Sophia Hampton Skins Chicken Breasts

It’s a coup for any writer to be published in Bon Appétit. Every month, over 1.5 million readers eat up the excellent photos and mouth-watering photos in the food and entertainment magazine.

It’s especially impressive for a writer who has not yet graduated from college.

But that’s what Sophia Hampton did this month.

Her piece — “The More Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts I Sell, the Worse I Feel” — explored her feelings as a butcher at New York’s Hudson & Charles, about the “shapeless blobs (that) are a staple of the American diet.”

Besides working as a whole animal butcher and writer, Sophia is a New York-based farmer. She also graduates — today! — from New York University, where she studied the relationship between healthy soil and healthy people.

And — explaining the connection between chicken breasts, 10003 and 06880 — she is a graduate of Staples High School’s Class of 2015.

Sophia Hampton, naturally.

“Sophia was an extraordinary student of mine, a tremendously dedicated volunteer with the Gillespie Center food program, and a very active participant in our Culinary Arts Club,” says Staples culinary instructor Cecily Gans.

“She had infectious curiosity and enthusiasm about every aspect of the kitchen, and always challenged herself to create something incredible, in taste and aesthetic.”

Sophia interned at prestigious Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills during college.

Earlier at Staples, Gans notes, she found internships and worked in all aspects of the industry.

“Sophia was intrigued by where our food comes from, from the earth it was grown in, to the fire that it was cooked over, before it finds its plate. My college recommendation for her practically wrote itself.

Sophia Hampton — a whole animal butcher — spends time learning about all the animals she works with.

“She had always talked about a professional ‘mash-up’ (before the term even existed) of her passion for all things culinary, with writing, journalism, and the politics and science of food.

“That’s all coming to fruition now. I know this article is just the beginning of what we hear and see from her. ”

Kim Herzog taught Sophia in AP Literature. She calls her “fantastic — as a reader, writer, speaker, listener and critical thinker.

“Being published in Bon Appétit while still in college is a tremendously big deal. It is the highest echelon in the food world, and publishes the strongest voices in the field.”

Herzog says that Sophia’s piece as a “powerful, researched argument filled with her voice – one that I believe will continue to progress in the food world.”

Bon appétit indeed!

(To read Sophia Hampton’s full story, click here.)

While at Staples High School, Sophia Hampton volunteered to serve food at the Gillespie Center.

Seniors And Teens Share Stories — And Lunch

One of the Senior Center’s most popular activities is a Writing Workshop. Jan Bassin guides men and women — many of whom have never written for pleasure — through the transformative process of turning their long lives and powerful insights into words that will live forever.

One of Staples High School’s most popular electives is Reading and Writing Fiction. Kim Herzog and David Stockwell help teenagers — many of whom don’t think of themselves as writers — turn their creative ideas into words they can be proud of.

Last spring, Bassin invited Julie Heller — the Westport school district’s grade 6-12 English coordinator — to her group’s final workshop. Heller was awed by the senior citizens’ eloquence and honesty. When Bassin asked if the Center could collaborate with Staples on a writing project, Heller immediately thought of Herzog and Stockwell.

Joining forces was easy. Figuring out what to write about together was not.

Eventually, the instructors settled on food. Senior citizens and high school seniors have something in common: “We all eat, smell and experience food,” Herzog says.

Earlier this month, both groups gathered at the Senior Center. They divided up, a few per table. They introduced themselves, then read their works.

Talking together …

Many older writers told personal stories. Many teenagers chose fiction. But all wrote powerfully, and well.

One woman described growing up in Europe, during World War II. An American soldier gave her a wonderful drink. Years later — now in the U.S. — she tasted it again.

Amazed, she asked its name.

“Coca-Cola,” she was told.

… reading …

Another woman related her first experience with oysters. They were not, she said, as fantastic as she’d heard.

The Staples students “couldn’t believe how honest” the Senior Center writers were, Herzog syas.

As for the younger writers: Their creativity and emotion stunned the older men and women.

It was the first time some of the Stapleites had sat down with senior citizens who were not their grandparents.

“It was great to watch,” Stockwell says. “The kids couldn’t stop talking about their experiences. And the seniors raved about the students.”

“Their collective writing skills were surpassed only by their good manners, self-confidence and the ease with which they made conversation,” one Senior Center member wrote afterward.

… and listening. (Photos courtesy of wanderinginwestport Instagram)

“The shortest distance between two people is a story,” Herzog notes.

And the quickest way to share experiences is through food.

So — naturally — both groups ate together too.

Westport Pizzeria, Trader Joe’s and Stew Leonard’s all donated lunch.

That’s something else to write home about.