The Chef In the School Cafeteria
The teenage cashier at the grocery store eyes my fruits and vegetables before scanning them. “What’s this?” she asks me, holding up an apricot. I tell her. “And this?” she asks, pointing to a plastic wrapped bunch of leaves.
“Basil,” I tell her.
“I know what this is, “ she says, holding up the radicchio. “Cabbage.”
It bothers me that a 17-year-old kid has clearly never eaten some of these fruits and vegetables. OK, radicchio I can understand. But apricots?
Baltimore Schools Food Service Director Tony Geraci watched second graders eat fresh peaches for the first time in their lives. “One was rubbing a peach along his face, and I said, ’It’s supposed to feel like that’ “ he said.
Geraci is part of the Department of Agriculture’s Chefs Move to Schools initiative, which so far has attracted 1600 chefs. The program is part of Michelle Obama’s program to reduce childhood obesity. The idea is that chefs will “adopt” a school and volunteer their services to improve nutrition and make meals more attractive.
I think the First Lady is on to something. I was lucky enough to hire a chef to run my district’s food service. (After years of working in restaurants, he was looking for health insurance and retirement benefits.) He brought to the job the idea that kids were customers and that food should be appealing and interesting. As a result, we were suddenly treated to homemade soups and interesting salads. Fresh fruit was available every day. He used local produce, varied entrees (Tuesday was no longer hot dog day) and gave kids a variety of choices.
The kids loved him. The cafeteria workers did not. There’s no lollygagging in a real restaurant’s kitchen, and that’s how he ran the school cafeterias. It didn’t matter to him if most of the kids were on free or reduced lunches; every kid deserved the best he could offer.
After a couple of years working in the schools he went back to the restaurant business. “Way too much paperwork,” he explained. “And too many restrictions.”
But while he was there it was a beautiful thing. So I think the Chefs Move to Schools is a move in the right direction.