Tender Greens Sustainable Life Project: Inspiring Homeless Youth

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If you live in California, there is one unique restaurant chain doing good things and growing crazy fast that you probably already have high on your list of places to try or have completely fallen in love with. If you haven’t heard of it – you are in for a treat called  Tender Greens.

In 2012, the Tender Greens Sustainable Life Project was born out of a desire to do more for homeless youth and foster children. Founding chefs and owners of Tender Greens, Erik Oberholtzer, Matt Lyman and David Dressler developed their  internship program, the Sustainable Life Project (SLP), to help teach foster youth about healthy eating, culinary skills, sustainable urban farming and culinary arts.

The project automatically differentiated them from other restaurants in the area. CEO/Founder Erik Oberholtzer was inspired by his work with the Los Angeles based non-profit StandUp for Kids. The Tender Greens program works with Inner City Arts and Covenant House to provide a 12 week culinary internship program with an opportunity to interview to work at a Tender Greens restaurant at the end of the internship. This opportunity provides insight into how food can bring healing and opportunity to many young lives. Because transitioning foster youth are too often overlooked, they are forced to navigate a broken system while fails to acknowledge and foster their potential. Tender Greens sought to change that.

Inspired by the countless opportunities available and working with Scarborough Farms, the owners of Tender Greens created an internship program to give transitioning foster youth access to a safe, consistent learning and nurturing living environment. It allows young adults to participate in an urban farming and culinary arts internship and provides select individuals with a strong “family” structure, career opportunities. It also helps to instill in them important values for creating relationships through land, food and community and prepares them to pursue their personal and professional goals with confidence.

Once the program is complete, graduates become ideal candidates for scholarships to attend culinary arts school, university and various internships across many different disciplines.

Tender Greens has also since developed a partnership with Inner-City Arts to further build the program.
The program for foster youth is now a 12-week internship that includes the following activities:

Tender Greens Internship

  • Learn kitchen back of house
  • Art of food shopping
  • Food Handler’s Certificate
  • Basic knife skills
  • Cold sauces and lettuce prep
  • Soups and Salads
  • Grilling: prepare the meats
  • Ordering, inventory, menu planning, social media

Field Trips

  • Farming & Food Production
  • Silver Lake Farms: Tour an urban farm; Learn to compost and importance of organic soil biology
  • Hollywood Farmer’s Market: Tour, taste and smell one of LA’s best’ markets to discuss importance of local and organic farming; Interact with the farmers
  • Scarborough Farms: Walk the fields, packaging facility, Q&A with the farmers
  • International Marine in DTLA: Tour the tuna room; Interact with sushi chefs; Experience rare fish and seafood
  • La Espanola and P. Balistreri Salumi production: Tour of a salumeria and learn about meat curing process
  • ReRide Ranch: Tour a small homestead pig farm and learn about animal husbandry
  • La Brea Bakery: See a full production bakery, from artisan breads to rustic sweets

Culinary Arts at Inner-City Arts Campus in DTLA

  • Screening of “Vanishing Bees” documentary with Q&A
  • Lesson on ancient grains and legumes
  • Importance of texture, seasoning and balance
  • Taste and smell different mustards, herbs and spices
  • Basic cooking techniques: blanching, steaming, pickling, slow cooking, braising, etc.
o    Butchery: learn fish butchering – clean and prepare
  • Pastry/Desserts – basic brownies, pies, cobbers, ice cream, cupcakes, cookies and icing

Professional Readiness

  • Resume development
  • Interviewing skills
  • What employers are looking for in a team member


  • Prepare 3 dishes using ingredients in a mystery basket
  • Peer judging and critique
  • Prepare a dish to be featured as the daily special at Tender Greens

Check out this example of one of their delicious recipes:

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

These spicy pumpkin cookies are perfect to make during the fall and winter months.  The warm tones of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg pair nicely with a sweet vanilla glaze.  Serve them at room temperature or heated for just a few seconds for a nice fall treat.

Yields about 1 ½ dozen cookies

Ingredients for the Pumpkin Cookie Dough:
1 stick of butter; softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg; grated
1/8 teaspoon cloves
2 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1.     For the cookie dough, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
2.     Add the eggs, one at a time until incorporated.
3.     Add the vanilla extract and pumpkin puree.
4.     Add the spices, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix until combined.
5.     Scoop each cookie about 2 tablespoon each, onto a baking sheet, spacing them 3 inches apart.
6.     Bake at 325 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until puffed and slightly brown around the edges.
7.     Cool.

Ingredients for the Glaze:
1 ½ cup powdered sugar; sifted
1 egg white
½ vanilla bean; scraped or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1.     To make the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, egg whites and vanilla bean or vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.
2.     If the glaze is too loose, add a little more powdered sugar until it is the correct consistency.
3.     Frost the cookies using the back of a spoon or small offset spatula.
4.     Let set for 10 minutes before serving.

What do you think of Tender Greens’ Sustainable Life Project? Share your thoughts and support for them below!

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