Category Archives: News

Dirty Pop…..baby, baby, you can’t stop

Soda was everywhere.

In my last three years working with schools I have never seen such a high rate of soda consumption until this year. And I’m not just talking about soda at lunch or in the classroom. I’m talking about kids, first grade to 8th grade, bringing in soda at 8am and drinking it with their French toast (I had a hard time giving them the syrup condiment that morning), carrying it with them through the halls, craving more of it as they drool into the faculty lounge where the soda vending machine is, and then carrying it with them through lunch, into snack, and into their supper meals that we also provide.

It’ everywhere.

And it’s not their fault. It’s not anyone’s fault but our own. As most know who read this blog, food access in this country is a sad irony of a failed destructive system we build ourselves; a system that has set us up to become obese. The kid carrying their soda bottle at 8am into the school has no where to buy juice in the morning, little money and education to know why juice would be a good investment as opposed to the 99 cent bottle of orange soda, and no one telling him different at home. Of course he gets soda and brings it to class. It’s not only cheap but will also fill him up really quickly so at least he can pay attention in the history class he has first period.

This past week the kitchen staff started asking “where”. Where are you getting this soda? Before we gave them their breakfast we wanted to know where they were getting the soda so that the cooks knew why they weren’t eating the food…. soda consumption is effecting everyone and I wanted to get my cooks involved in the talk…after all, they are spending their time making the food and if they aren’t eating it, I would want to know who’s wasting my time.

And after each student gave us an answer they got their meal. We found most were actually getting it from home, which is absolutely terrifying. Again the disconnect in food access is always food education and asking why they are stocking their homes with soda is more important than wondering why the kid brought it in now. It’s cheap.

So, the ultimate issues, as stated, is education. How do we work with families to understand the priorities of moving their income to be spent on quality rather than quantity and telling them that truly, in the end, you will save more money and be healthy? Addressing this is huge and with parents. The last thing parents want to hear is someone preaching to them about how wrong they feeding their kids. But we don’t really have a choice….our work in our kitchen at this school becomes about the parents.

On back to school night you can be sure that not only will we be talking about the food we are serving but about the importance of what the food is and why. After all, the beginning of education starts with a conversation …and I’m looking forward to it.

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3rd year and the First Lady

I’m approaching my third year at DC Central Kitchen working under the Fresh Start catering umbrella arm in school food dining services. It’s been night and day in how we approach school food. Three years ago I, we, DCCK, were getting our feet wet by feeding 72 kids in a private school in North East. Year two brought us both clients in the public charter school sector and of course, the pilot program we were granted for 7 DCPS schools (these schools were the most under served in the over 100 schools that DCPS has on its roster). And now, in year three, our feet are no longer wet but rather soaking with experience, knowledge, and the tools to move into different schools to feed and also educate.

I am one of now a team of school food chefs with DCCK. Just as we have expanded our operations to develop more schools we needed more chefs to help execute them and I am honored to work with them.

This year my home base is at Walker Jones Education Campus right in the heart of the city. This school ALSO just happens to have a one-acre farm on it. But before I can use the produce that grows on the farm I have to have forms filled out signed by parents saying that their kid can eat the produce…. AND we then have to get the soil tested…makes sense and all but do you know how hard it is to get 436 waivers back? My next goal is to then figure out how much produce actually needs to be grown so that we can feed the students each their 4oz of vegetable portion as mandated for lunch by the Healthy Schools Act and national school lunch program.

You can be sure that Iron chef competitions will happen and guest chefs will visit. My goal is to try and get the First lady to visit the school and see how far we are going to get kids to understand the importance and role of food in their lives.

But then again…. when you have kids, who on the 5th day of school ask you when the salad bar starts well, that makes me think that maybe these guys already know the role of good food in their lives.

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Garden Party: Annual Community Garden Day

If you have some time tomorrow (August 13th), head over to the P Street Whole Foods for the Annual Community Garden Day! The Garden Party gets underway at 10:00 AM and runs until 3:00 PM.

Washington Youth Garden, Arcadia Farm and Sustainable Agriculture, City Blossoms, The Farm at Walker Jones, Rooting DC, Department of Parks and Recreation will be on hand to share information, share the harvest, and bring the community together to share in the delights of community gardens.  You  may even hear a bit about Slow Food DC and developments with our Snail of Approval Awards!

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School Year Wrap Up

My year ends in August; not December.

For folks in school food August is the time to get away for a few weeks and come back ready to hit the ground running. This year I’ll be taking some much needed family time in NJ and NYC but the reality is, I’ll be thinking about Washington and the student’s I’ll get to meet and feed next year.

For the last year I have worked mostly with two schools and consulted on a dozen or so. It’s been an amazing year of working with middle school boys, college kids, toddlers, and of course the Spanish speaking emersion high school. Many demographics, many ages, many social economic backgrounds have taught me many things about food, people, and more importantly, how communities can come together using food as a tool. Next year wont be any different….except for the fact that I’ll have a one acre farm outside my office that I can walk to, harvest, and prepare food for the school with.

This tool, having a working, growing farm on a school campus, right behind the home of the President is pretty exciting. Big things are going to happen next year and I’m exciting to work with all of the new faces. I’m excited to teach them why food is so important to your life and how it brings people together.

Vacation….how do you go on vacation when you love what you do?

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The egg and the mouse

How many words can you type per minute? What about how fast can you copy and paste something into a new document? Or how about how fast you can find something on Google; like directions?….. really think about. How much do you use the computer and how long did it take you to get “up to speed”?

I ask these questions because in the last month I have been asking myself these questions. I’m in the process of teaching my sous chef how to make prep lists on an Excel sheet, how to type out the school menu of the day in a Word document, and how to do ordering with email. Said sous chef has never used a computer. He holds the mouse as if it’s a fragile egg and moves it with such attention that I find myself laughing with the whole perspective of things.

That’s my reality; teaching a 42 year old man who has never used a computer to learn how to jump into today’s chef world of emails, online ordering, Googling, excel sheet building, labor tracking, and scheduling.

Howard is going to master this; no doubt. And as he masters the computer, he is also learning that in today’s culinary world, computer skills are just as important as good knife skills. Here we come 500 words per minute…well, you know what I mean 😉

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My Slow Food Weekend

Friday night I tried out a new recipe I have been holding onto, clams with bacon and potatoes braised in beer.  Dining on the porch enjoying the warmth of early summer evenings with a crisp French rośe, catching up with friends is the perfect way to unwind from the week.

Saturday morning I met with a group of about 10 to volunteer at the Neighborhood Farm Initiative. I admit I don’t often get up and out on a Saturday morning before 9am, but the bright sunny day brought an invigoration to embrace the day. The Neighborhood Farm Initiative cultivates a resourceful community of adults and teenagers working together to engage in small-scale food production in the Washington, D.C. area. In addition to the numerous educational programs they also donate the produce from the community garden to area soup kitchens and food pantries.  Hopefully, photos from our day will be posted here soon: https://picasaweb.google.com/neighborhoodfarm.

It was fun to meet new people, weed, prep beds and plant some summer crops like beans, tomatoes, and squash. In just a few hours we could look back over the rows and share a feeling of accomplishment and know the benefit of efforts with spread across the community. We then shared a wonderful pot luck lunch; Slow Food potlucks are always fantastic.  Favorite dishes included delicious lentils cooked with spring beets and a tasty okra salad. I am in the smaller population of people who love okra, fried, stewed, in gumbo, it’s great but this was the first time I have had it in a salad. The flavors were similar to stewed okra and tomatoes of my childhood but brighter and fresher in this form. Whoever made this if you want to share the recipe you have one happy fan.

The Food and Water Watch gave a presentation on important issues that need to be included in the Farm Bill. If you are interested in learning more about how to lend your support to protecting small farmers, visit http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/fair-farm/. It will take more than just voting with our forks to continue enjoying fresh local food produced in ways that are fair to both the animals, land, and people involved.

After the farm day, a friend took me on a bike ride through Rock Creek Park, our muscles stretching from the day of weeding and riding. Good thing I worked up an appetite because Sunday night capped off my Slow Food weekend in a glorious manner with an EcoFriendly Foods dinner at Dino.

Chef Dean of Dino brings his passion for locally sourced humane foods to the dinner table through his passion of food history and traditions. As each course was presented he shared the history behind it or a funny anecdote. Each course was unique and showcased the product but for me it was equally important to share the bounty with others around the table we broke bread and sipped wine and by the end of the evening all rubbed our bellies with satisfaction that comes from a slow three-and-half-hours meal.

I am grateful that I am able to participate in a variety of ways that brings meaning to what we eat and the importance of sharing that with others.

Originally posted on Taste Driven.

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Fair Food for All: A How-To Guide

We’ve all heard the advice to “vote with your fork.” But there is more each of us can do to create sustainable local food systems that serve everyone—not just the wealthy.

The new book Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All by Oran Hesterman provides a roadmap for how to do your part. The book, Hesterman says, “is intended to add needed perspective and pragmatism to a shelf dominated by journalists and chefs.” While it continues the awareness-raising work jumpstarted by Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, Fair Food goes one step further by dedicating several chapters to the “how” of food system reform, including plenty of case studies of local and regional initiatives that could be replicated nationwide.

Beyond eating seasonally, visiting the farmers’ market, and planting a garden, how can you make a difference? Here are a few of Hesterman’s suggestions:

  • Organize a buying club among friends and neighbors interested in purchasing good food in bulk directly from a producer, providing economic benefits for both buyers and seller. This is a simple way to make free-range meat, wild-caught seafood, and dairy products from pastured animals more affordable.
  • Find a community kitchen (or “kitchen incubator”) in your area, or start one! A community kitchen provides commercial kitchen space to individuals or groups to produce food for sale. Some also offer new food entrepreneurs business development services, Internet access, and expert resources.
  • Volunteer to take part in a community food assessment. By talking to residents in vulnerable neighborhoods about their needs, inventorying selection at local corner stores and groceries, or noting potential places for community gardens or small farms, you can begin to transform a food desert.
  • Get a small group of parents together to talk to the school food service director at your child’s school to find out whether they have the equipment needed to consider using locally sourced food, whether they have any connections with local farmers, and if there is anything you can do to help.
  • Similarly, encourage your college campus, corporate cafeteria, local hospital or nursing home to source more of their food locally and ask how you can help them do it.
  • Find out if there is a food policy council in your state or area and, if not, contact your city council to express your interest in starting one. These bodies typically connect policymakers with concerned citizens and local experts to work on concrete issues like zoning for urban agriculture or improvement of food assistance programs.
  • If you are connected with an institution that uses public funds to procure food (such as universities, day care centers, state office cafeterias, etc.) contact them to see if they have any targets for procuring a certain percentage of their food locally. If they don’t, ask what you can do to help get a target set, whether it’s calling your state representative or contacting the governor’s office.
  • Educate yourself about the issues at stake in the 2012 Farm Bill. For instance, did you know that approximately 68% of the money allocated through the Farm Bill goes toward nutrition programs, while 12% goes toward crop subsidies? Get involved with local organizations to advocate for more equitable and environmentally sound policies.

At an event earlier this week to celebrate the book’s launch, Hesterman pointed out thatThe New York Times just printed a review of Fair Food in the business section. Why there? Because fresh, local, fair food is no longer a fringe concept. Farmers’ markets are booming across the country, CSA subscriptions are skyrocketing, and supermarkets are increasingly offering local options amidst the sea of travel-weary fruits and vegetables. Yet, to quote the book’s introduction, “while there is the beginning of a national conversation about our food system that sings the praises of backyard vegetable gardens and pricey organic produce, the people of Detroit don’t even have a supermarket.”

Even as we transform our own dinner tables, this book urges us to think bigger and do more. While the existence of a food policy council and Farm Bill advocacy can’t guarantee reform, they do demonstrate to lawmakers, businesses, and producers that people care not only about their own meals and where they come from, but are also willing to fight for others’ right to enjoy fresh, nutritious food.

This post originally appeared on FreshtheMovie.com.

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Breaking the Glass Ceiling Through School Food

I believe she was wearing 5 or 7 bracelets on each arm. She had pink acrylic nails on and hair that resembled Adam Lambert’s.

This week I was lucky enough, despite all the bracelets and nail polish (a big no no in food service) to have two female 11th graders shadow me at school to learn more about the culinary field. For a few hours these young women got a glimpse of what my days are like. One of them had an issue with the 5 am wake up call but for the most part, these two young and focused women came with questions, an open mind, and ready to work on their knife skills.

School food is a lot of things for me: it’s the ability to use great food to educate, to teach, to excite, to grow, and to connect. It’s a platform to reach many generations and teach them why food, up their with family, is so important in one’s life. But, school food also serves as a great arena to showcase how the glass ceiling of gender roles is visible in the culinary field.

Many have written, spoken, and also ignored the fact that men dominate the culinary field. Of course they do. It’s set up for women to fail. Most women put their health and family first and as a result, most women (or most people) don’t want to work over 80 hours a week with no to little time off. It’s a hard business to be in, no matter what area of food service you are in. Most women have a hard time balancing out family and food service gigs, no matter how you shape the gender roles of parenting.

I thrive in school food because it’s more meaningful to me, not saying all women, than a tasting menu. Tasting menus are lovely and amazing but I personally need more. I get to do “restaurant work” with community outreach. Perhaps that’s where more women feel connected. Perhaps that’s why most school food service operations are staffed by hourly and salaried women. Perhaps that’s why I was sent a few female students to explore school food operations. Perhaps!

The young women that entered our kitchen this week are seeking new experiences, they are taking risks, and they are going after something that makes them feel good and happy. They aren’t going after security but rather after sincerity. I have no doubt that no matter where these two young women end up in food service that they will break down barriers of gender and make stronger communities along the way.

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Great School Food+Team Building= WINNING!

May is usually a great month for me; it’s my birthday, the weather is nice and comfortable, great produce is out from the farms and we begin to stock up on bulk production to take us into, yes, winter. Thus far, this May has been no different from last year. I celebrated a great birthday with great company and great food (at Tokyo Underground), the weather is amazing, and we just began making our big batches of tomato sauce this week for the first stages of freezing for fall and winter.

We also got a great visit this week from the folks at CentroNia Public charter schools. The chef and food service director came by our school to check us and talk shop.

It’s very hard for chefs, food service providers, etc to get time to visit others, to compare notes, to actually not be in reaction mode and work on making progress. But when they do, great things usually come of it. In our case, we came to a great plan. And I’m going to tell you about it!

CentrNia is a group of schools focusing on a Hispanic population in the Columbia Heights section of Washington, D.C. The chef there, also a female!, works with her kitchen staff of 5 to create breakfast and lunch programs that are delicious, healthy, and culturally comforting to those she feeds. She takes time to work, teach, and demo, just like I do, with her staff and her students to better educate them. She also works with a younger age group, starting at 3 years of age.

I have also overseen an operation with a daycare center. Let me tell you, feeding kids that early is a golden opportunity, as Jamie Oliver will tell you, to capture their palates, capture their association with food, health, and pure delicious tastes, to make them get the connection of how amazing food, real food, is. And when they have it, it’s theirs, it’s yours, and as long as you keep them on that track, their palates will PREFER that food to fast food. Chef Beatriz does just that and it’s something I commend her for.

But other than all of that work we do to feed kids better food, we came up with something a bit better……….cross training. No kitchen functions without acting as a team and the more the team players know how to help out the other players, the better your team is at …..WINNING! So, as Beatriz and I chatted we talked about our staff and how it would be great to have them kitchen swap. Have my big guys go over to her school and work with the Hispanic woman making tortillas from scratch; have them really understand a great salsa recipe. Then, have her folks over to our school and check out how we cook our collard greens, how we make panko breadcrumbs, and how we make our version of ranch dressing. It’s about the kids but it’s also about the staff. And without a great, strong, and open minded staff, you can’t make kids meals better and better. You can’t teach someone to care but you can sure teach someone when they have passion. I look forward to next month when we continue the learning and education of not just the children we feed, but the minds and hearts we work along side with everyday. Cheers!

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