You might say the food network television station palls in comparison to what has been going on in the Wayne County Schools Nutrition Services Department cooking classes. The school cooks were ‘really cookin’ this past week during a two-day workshop where they learned some new food preparation techniques and expanded their menu selections with some really delicious and nutritious dishes.
The local school nutrition professionals were treated to a hands-on food production workshop featuring Chef Cyndie Story, PhD, RD, CC, who travels the country sharing her 20 years of experience as a school food service director, coordinator, consultant, and trainer. The staff gained knowledge in perfecting their desire to provide children with healthy school meals. They focused on everything from knife skills to culinary techniques for fresh produce fabrication to utilizing herbs and spices to enhance menu flavor and appeal during her train-the-trainer seminar. Their work continues to meet new challenges because of shifts in the national guidelines regarding nutritional content. For instance, Wayne County students will be amongst students across the nation experiencing more whole grains and reduced sodium in school meals this year. In addition, Wayne County students are fortunate to be under the Community Eligibility umbrella where they eat breakfast and lunch at no cost.
“I’m here to get you started with recipe engineering,” Chef Story told the cafeteria staffs. Each morning she offered work simplification techniques and demonstrated various tricks of the trade. Next, she divided the department into teams and assigned them recipes to cook in the kitchen.
“Wash your hands, put your hair nets on and I’ll meet you in the kitchen,” she told the cooks.
In a matter of minutes, vegetables were being cut and fruit was being sliced as cooking teams went to work preparing everything from Cardinal Lasagna to Stacked Burrito Bake to Fruit Parfait in the Wayne County Middle School kitchen. After a couple of hours of the controlled hustle and bustle involved in preparing and cooking the appealing dishes; cooks and colleagues sampled the results.
Their efforts paid off and the beautiful dishes quickly vanished as the lucky taste testers enjoyed the samples. After the first day’s recipes were analyzed and reviewed, the cooks were able to go back the second day and make slight modifications to the dishes if needed.
“The Spanish rice didn’t have the oomph it needed yesterday. Something was missing but we will try it again today,” Chef Story told the cooks. “The vegetarian charro beans were quite tasty though.”
“How we make it, drives the recipe,” explained Chef Story.
Some of the favorite dishes which will appear on the menu this year were: apple crisp, chicken fiesta salad, mac n’ cheese, crunchy baked sweet potato with dip, and chicken penne pasta – just to name a few of the entrees and side dishes they created.
Chef Story told her fellow school chefs that the goal was to get customers to want to take the fruits and vegetables on the line; so it was their jobs to chop an apple, for example, and place it in a miniature bouquet design trimmed with grapes and blueberries making it more appetizing. The thinking in the past has focused on the entrée, but vegetables and fruits need to make up 50 to 60 percent of the plate for a more balanced diet. She quoted statistics on the future rate of childhood diabetes and how the USDA Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) national nutrition standards for school meals are fighting this dilemma.
“It’s not just the law….it’s the right thing to do,” stressed Chef Story.
“We are trying to upscale our skills so our children will eat more vegetables and fruits,” said Wayne County Nutrition Services Director Karen Gibson. “Chef Story’s workshop was a huge success with our staff experiencing hands-on culinary basics towards developing signature entrees that our students will grow to enjoy and love.”
“You might say we are going back to the basics. We call it speed ‘scratch cooking’ where we make dishes partly from scratch, just like at home,” explained Gibson.
Sometimes, the recipes will incorporate some short cuts because of the large volume of customers. For instance, because of the safety risk issues with raw chicken, the department will purchase pre-cooked chicken tenders to be used in the buffalo blue cheese chicken salad recipe. Roasted vegetables are another positive step forward that students can anticipate this school year. Herb sprinkled roasted red potatoes, carrots, and cauliflower scored high on the surveys after the taste testing event. One of the emphasis is controlling sodium, so there will be more Mrs. Dash and less use of a salt shaker.
“Our challenge will be to meet the new USDA meal pattern standards and make sure the foods are still tasty and acceptable to our students,” said Gibson. “We believe we have a lot of wonderful fresh food choices and methods of cooking that will appeal to our customers.”
Walker Early Learning Center Cook Mary Beth Melton & Bell Elementary Cook Connie Chaplin show off the fiesta salad
Chicken penne will be featured on the serving lines this upcoming school year
As well as the stacked burrito & lasagna
Chef Cyndie Story speaks while Food Service Director Karen Gibson & WCHS Cooks Mary Crabtree & Ruby Rednour listen
Chef Cyndie Story chatted with WCHS Cook Rhonda Patton
Chef Cyndie Story reviewed recipies with WCMS Cook Deborah Swope
Chef Cyndie Story demonstrated knife skills
Cooks learned proper knife skills & presentation for fruit/veggie cups that will be on the serving lines
Food Service Director Karen Gibson shows off the fruit cups
Cook Lisa Kammer uses a chef's knife
Sub Jessica Coffey & WCHS Cook Ruby Rednour follow instructions to prepare the red roasted potatoes
Chef Cyndie Story inspects the sweet potatoes
WCMS Cook Peggy McGinnis uses a chef's knife to slice sweet potatoes
Walker Early Learning Center CookTanya Wasiloski adds water to cook the penne pasta
WCHS Cook Lisa Howard & WCMS Cook Melinda Bertram slice apples for the fruit cups
WCHS Cook Rhonda Patton cutting up cheese to go in the cheesy chicken
WCMS Cook Deborah Swope mixed ingredients for the recipie she was working on
Karen Gibson checked over ingredients in a recipie that WCMS Cook Tina Young was preparing
Substitute Cook Janie Gregory measures out ingredients
Cooks Sheila Lowe & Priscilla Stinson checked over a recipie with Food Service Director Karen Gibson
Buffalo Blue Cheese Chicken Salad was a favorite at the taste test
Students will enjoy crunchy baked sweet potato with dip