(This is a post by Tami Schwerin of The Abundance Foundation, one of the Chef Challenge partners.)
The first day of the Chatham County Schools Chef Challenge is finally here and by all accounts was a huge success. We went to the newly opened state of the art middle school, Margaret Pollard to see how the first Chef’s dish was received. Pollard is named after our wonderful community activist and county commissioner, Margaret who passed away in 2009, she would have been so proud to see the cafeteria today.
Today’s menu was created by Chef Gregg Hamm, and Kelly Taylor of the Natural Chef Culinary Program at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro. Gregg and Kelly trained the lunch managers on how to make a 3 cheese pasta dish full of nutritious vegetables, and a fresh salad. For dessert, the offer was strawberries and bananas drizzled with chocolate sauce. The menu was easy for the lunch teams to create and abided by the USDA requirements for the school lunch program. Both Gregg and Kelly were on hand today to help and also watch as the 500 plus kids piled into the cafeteria.
We were all nervous as the competition was tough: chicken nuggets. They are one of the kid’s all time favorite lunches. The first few kids picked the nuggets. Then a few kids picked the 3 cheese pasta lunch. Then we watched as the line to get the pasta lunch wrapped around the cafeteria which had never happened before. Usually, the line goes fast while the kids grab plastic wrapped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other fast options. The children chose the pasta dish over their beloved chicken nuggets 4 to 1!
The school had printed up little surveys for the children asking them 4 questions: How does the lunch taste, look, smell and would you want to see this again on the menu. Over 80% gave it all GOOD. A few said it smelled bad (parmesan has a strong smell), looked bad and would not want to see it again. The best part was seeing the kids smile, they came up and thanked us and the Chefs for the lunch. Most were exuberant over the new menu and even cheered as Chef Gregg gave a quick announcement about the lunch.
Superintendent Logan and Susan Little, Chief Operating Officer, were on hand to see the roll out of the project. And they enjoyed some lunch of course. Debbie McKenzie, Director of Nutrition, said there were some changes that had to be made to pull this event off. Distributing the fresh vegetables for this week was a challenge. They have one person that delivers and he had a huge amount of produce to get to 17 different schools so they would be ready.
Tomorrow’s menu is from Chef Colin Bedford from Fearrington House. He’ll be up against nachos. Wednesday is Chef Jimmy Reale from Carolina Inn and he’ll be competing with pizza.
We are so thankful to Briar Chapel for the organization and logistics, to the restaurants and Chefs and to CCCC for the use of their kitchen on training day. We are also thankful to the school administration and staff for their flexibility. We’ll see where this takes us on increasing our kid’s nutrition. I bet they all become A students and reach their highest potential.