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Jessica Frey

Foodie Darci Atkinson prepares a spring panzanella salad.

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Jessica Frey

Foodie Darci Atkinson prepares a spring panzanella salad.

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Jessica Frey

Foodie Darci Atkinson prepares a spring panzanella salad.

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Jessica Frey

Foodie Darci Atkinson prepares a spring panzanella salad.

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Jessica Frey

Foodie Darci Atkinson prepares a spring panzanella salad.

Darci Atkinson started working at the Buena Vista Elementary's Edible Schoolyard in February 2011, when the property adjacent to the school was still just a dirt plot. During the next several months, the kitchen and garden were built, and the Edible Schoolyard opened that fall.

Atkinson, the 52-year-old kitchen manager at the Edible Schoolyard, teaches the elementary school students how to prepare food they have grown in the garden, as well as how to eat healthy and seasonal foods.

She enjoys showing the children how to prepare and cook nutritious foods, she said -- something that is very important to her.

"It is not only important, but necessary, for children to learn how to prepare nutritious meals. Childhood obesity is rampant, so we must be diligent with our diets," Atkinson said. "Our program encourages young children to eat seasonal and healthy foods. The students share their skills and knowledge at home with family and friends creating a ripple effect throughout the community."

Feel inspired to prepare fresh and healthy dishes after reading this foodie's advice. And give Atkinson's spring panzanella salad recipe a try.

Cooking advice

When I developed an interest in cooking: Many years ago, I took a course at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif. I loved the energy I found in the kitchen.

How I find inspiration to create a new dish: Inspiration comes from the seasonal ingredients that are available.

One of my cooking secrets: Keep everything as fresh as possible.

An ingredient that I love to use in my recipes: Olive oil -- it's healthy, delicious and a great way to finish a dish.

If I could spend a day with a famous chef, it would be: Julia Child.

Advice I would ask her: What was the hardest decision you ever had to make as a cook?

Tools of the trade

Favorite piece of cooking equipment: My saute pans.

Must-have kitchen tools: A good French knife.

Go-to cookbooks: " The Professional Chef" by the Culinary Institute of America; "The Art of Simple Food" by Alice Waters; I love the New York Times' dining section every Wednesday; and I'm on the web quite often!

Spice cabinet essentials: Fleur de sel, cumin, za'atar, Aleppo pepper.

Favorite cooking show to watch: I'm a fan of Ina Garten, and I can get pulled into a few episodes of "Chopped," especially when I'm on the treadmill.


Favorite cuisine: Mediterranean.

Favorite local restaurant, and my order: I grew up at Mexicali, downtown. I spent Friday nights there with my parents and brother. Great memories. I started with a child's plate (hamburger patty, rice and beans), and graduated to Esther's Delight! Margarita? Yes, blended with salt.

Best food memory: Eleven Madison Park Restaurant in New York City. The food is creative and beautiful, and the service is stellar. This restaurant received three Michelin stars in 2012, and is one of my top five restaurant experiences.

Best culinary destination: There are many! The best so far: Paris. And I'm headed back next month with my daughter for a culinary extravaganza.

Most expensive meal: The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. Our dinner cost $300 for a nine-course tasting. Perfectly balanced dishes.

A few of my favorite things

Always in the fridge: A variety of cheeses, white wine, and half-and-half for my coffee (I drink it like my grandfather -- light brown).

Favorite finds at the farmers market: Brussels sprouts (on the stalk), cheese and local honey.

I'm addicted to: Weekend mochas at Sweet Surrender Bakery.

Wine: Friuli Isonzo Pinot Grigio. It's a beautiful unoaked chardonnay with a glass cork. Love that!

Dessert: Anything with nuts. I love Dewar's: two scoops of peppermint ice milk, hot fudge and almonds.

The single tastiest thing I've eaten this month: Luigi's ravioli with sage butter.

Favorite recipes

At the schoolyard: Vegetable tostadas with homemade corn tortillas.

At home: I check the refrigerator and pantry, and go from there.

Healthy snack: Edamame.

Local bakery: Sweet Surrender Bakery and Smith's Bakeries on Union Avenue.