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“Professional Development for an Ideal School Meal”
By Ann M. Evans, Principal, Evans & Brennan, Food Systems Consultants and coauthor of “Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools” (2011, Center for Ecoliteracy)

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  1. 1. Page 1 of 7National Farm to Cafeteria ConferenceBurlington, VermontAugust 4, 2012“Professional Development for an Ideal School Meal”By Ann M. Evans, Principal, Evans & Brennan, Food Systems Consultantsand coauthor of “Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools” (2011,Center for Ecoliteracy)PANEL: COOKING SEASONAL FOODS: PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENTFOR FOOD SERVICE STAFFModerator: Gail Feenstra, Food Systems Coordinator at University ofCalifornia Sustainable Agriculture, Research and Education ProgramPanelists:Kathy Alexander, School Nutrition Association, Vermont President andfood service directorAmy Winston: NE Regional Lead Agency, national Farm to SchoolNetwork, Real Food Institute of MidCoast MaineAnn M. Evans, Principal, Evans & Brennan, Food Systems Consultantsand coauthor of “Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools” (2011,Center for Ecoliteracy)With my business partner, Georgeanne Brennan, who has run a cookingschool in France and California, I teach school districts how toincorporate scratch cooking into the food they serve. We offer cookingschools for school food service.We do this because school districts represent a strategic opportunity tochange food culture in the United States; they are often the largestrestaurant in their community – certainly in Los Angeles no other entityis serving 650,000 meals a day.Based on four years of these classes, we developed a philosophy foradult education with school food service that worked in two diverseschool districts in northern California: in Davis, a university town with aschool district of about 8,000, and in Oakland, a port city with a schooldistrict with 32,000 students. • School food service employees not only know how to cook, they
  2. 2. Page 2 of 7 are good cooks. They are men and women who have raised or are raising a family, and have been putting a meal on the table every night for years. • Adults learn by doing – tactile and experiential learning work best. • Adults need a framework to help them reorganize what they already know so they can remember.We developed that framework, and called it 6-5-4 and used it as well asthe above philosophy to write a book and set of recipes called “Cookingwith California Food in K-12 Schools,” which was published by theCenter for Ecoliteracy in 2011 as a part of a suite of resources in itssignature and internationally known program “Rethinking SchoolLunch.”During my time with you today, I’m going to cover the role ofprofessional development as part of the solution to manifesting an idealschool meal.My ideal school meal is that it reflects the season, the geography and thehistory of place. You know if you’re having school lunch in Michigan, orCalifornia, or Vermont.It supports the local agricultural economy. Professionals process foodsin house, making stock, salad dressings, bakery items, and sauces suchas pesto and tomato; professionals who are paid a living wage withbenefits.The kitchens have pantries stocked with real food. Stoves are used formore than table tops, the Hobart mixers are dusted off and used, spicegrinders and citrus cutters fill the air with scents of orange and cumin.The 6-5-4 framework is easy:Six foods kids know and love…pizza, wraps, soups, rice bowls, salads,and pastas – because if you are introducing new foods, it might as wellcome in a familiar package. Pizza in fall with Butternut Squash, Walnutsand Chard is still pizza for lunch.Five flavor profiles that represent some of the world’s greatest cuisines,
  3. 3. Page 3 of 7and as well the history of immigration in California – Latin American;African American; Indian-Middle Eastern; Asian; and European-Mediterranean.Four seasons.Other consultants provide professional development on the new USDAregulations, knife skills, production cooking and so forth, all valuableand essential. We present professional development by having the foodservice staff cook.We teach the five flavor profiles, as they change throughout the 4seasons, using the six dishes kids know and love. By teach, I mean weconduct a cooking class with a district’s food service in the afternoon for3 hours or for a three-day period.Here’s what happens. The school food service workers assemble arounda table in a teaching kitchen or central kitchen, we present for 5-10minutes a flavor profile using a flavor profile tray – which has the keyspices, herbs, foods represented – so they can literally see it – and ifthere is a member of that ethnic community, we invite them up to beour “expert.” They go over the ingredients again as they like, talkingabout how they use them in daily cooking. We ask, “What are wemissing?” And they usually have a few suggestions for us.Then, it’s time to cook. We review the recipes – a group of 12-16 peoplecan cook 8-10 recipes in 2 hours easily. They choose a partner to cookwith a select the recipe they want to cook.The ingredients are already purchased - we send a shopping list aheadonce the recipes are worked out with the food service director. Theparticipants take a tray and gather all their ingredients, often learningthe ingredients right then for the first time, but not being told by atalking head – searching it out themselves, asking a colleague or askingus.We go around to each team while they are cooking and answerquestions, engage with them and explore what they already know orwant to know.
  4. 4. Page 4 of 7When they are done cooking their dishes – all in one flavor profile as inthe case above, or sometimes featuring a specific ingredient such asCalifornia Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or featuring one of the six dishes, suchas salads (grains and greens) and house-made dressings across the fiveflavor profiles – they plate them out.Everyone gathers around the table with these family size servings ofhigh flavor dishes kids know and love – plated out on white platters ifpossible with garnish and a serving spoon - and then each teampresents. What ingredients did they use, how did they cook it, did theytaste it, do they like it, were there any problems.One food service director told us during this portion of the class, “This isthe first time I’ve ever heard my people speak in public, in fact, I think itmay be the first time some of them ever have spoken in public.” And weknow that to be true – but we don’t give a lecture on how to speak inpublic – they learn by doing and by watching their colleagues.That same food service director, after we had the employees name thedry beans they cook at home and there were over 20 varietals, askedone of her employees, who had said she makes hummus from garbanzobeans, “what do you do?” The employee looked at her and said, “I soakthem in water the night before.” The director said, “Oh, and then what?”The employee looked at her and said, “I cook them in water the nextday.” The exchange was the first of its kind between them, and theysorted out that that employee would be making house-made hummusfor the school district from dry beans.After the presentation on the dishes, we serve ourselves a taste of eachand sit down together to eat – usually in silence for the first 5 minutesas we are all so hungry and it is so good. Then we conduct a discussionof how they like the dishes, and whether they think the dishes wouldwork at the elementary and or secondary levels, what might need to bemodified – how they could serve it in the line, and so forth.As Chef Stu from Yale mentioned to me yesterday, “cooking from scratchin this way provides a sense of ownership, they are not cogs in a wheel.”
  5. 5. Page 5 of 7So that’s the micro version. The book that we wrote, “Cooking withCalifornia Food in K-12 Schools” is free, downloadable in English andSpanish, from the Center for Ecoliteracy website. And you can use it, ofcourse, with your own state’s food.Jennifer LeBarre, Oakland Unified School District’s Food ServiceDirector has brought us in to provide cooking lessons to her staff, aspart of the extensive work the Center for Ecoliteracy is partnering withher to recreate school lunch in Oakland. We caught up with her inFebruary of this year to interview her for a new blog we’ve launchedcalled – Who’s Cooking School Lunch – which tells the fascinatingstories of the men and women behind the scenes who work hard to getthose millions of meals to the school tables --Jennifer told us, “One of the most powerful things about the cookinglessons is that they showed us that our staff isn’t undertrained, they areunderutilized. That’s the biggest thing. You have the perception thatthey don’t know how to cook because they are not cooking, but you’vecreated that environment.”She said, “The cooking classes told us how skilled they are and told ouremployees that we believe in them and that we care about them. Nomatter how good you are you can always do better. Give them moretraining and introduce them to new things. That wonderfularrangement of citrus at our first class - so many didn’t know –kumquat, pomello. Now we’ve exposed them to the different varietals ofthese fruits and vegetables, they are more comfortable serving them.We know that as the employees become more self-assured they extendthat to more influence on the menu. In San Rafael, CA we recently did athree day training, and the food service director asked her staff tochoose one of the over 60 recipes they made, that they want to see onthe menu this fall.And note that every time a recipe is used, we carefully go over what cancome from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service commodityprogram.One more testimony – this one from Darryl W. Graves from Los Angeles
  6. 6. Page 6 of 7Unified School District. He’s originally from Mississippi – he’s done fastfood, fine dining, hospitals – and proudly told us he was the only studentat Jackson State cooking – batch cooking for a college. His mother had astore next door to their house with pralines and cakesWe taught cooking lessons for two days with a group from LA, inDarryl’s kitchen where the Deputy Food Service Director, now theInterim director, David Binkle, had to go out and buy pots and pans andsome knives just to be able to conduct class – which focused onincorporating California Extra Virgin Olive Oil into soups, salads, andentrée items. Afterwards Darryl told us, “class is really good becauseyou get exposure to different ways of doing things. I’m a firm believer incooking healthy.”In closing, I want to let you know what Davis Joint Unified SchoolDistrict is doing, and what you can do in your regions.Again, with many partners, including UCSAREP, we worked with theschool food service over a four-year period of hands on cooking inDavis. We took them on a “chef’s walk” with other regional chefsthrough our local farmers market in their chef whites (which RafaelitaCurva, Director of Nutrition Services at Davis bought them for theoccasion) to see what was in season and get ideas of what to cook withit, followed by a lunch and a farm tour, we engaged them with a “shownot tell” marketing strategy where they cater Chamber of Commerceluncheons with the school lunch for that day, or side by side ofrestaurants, serve up school soups such as the Asian Coconut Mandarinor Latin American Albondigas and entrees such as the Moroccan 7-Vegetable Tagine over Couscous served that day for lunch, and servedagain to a fundraiser for the community that night.What you can do in your state/region? Here are a few tested ideas: • Design and create a regional school lunch menu based on what you grow; • Start a school lunch booster club, district wide, that can raise funds to bring cooking lessons into your district and take the school food service to the farms; • Connect your school food service with the local farmers market and networks of chefs;
  7. 7. Page 7 of 7 • Take on the role of a “forager” for food service, introducing them to local farmers or providing the central kitchen with a CSA box they can experiment with; • Bring in professional development for your school food service or take them to your local university’s kitchen to work with their chefs.In conclusion, why provide this kind of professional development,cooking lessons that are focused on food and flavors, using self-discovery and hands-on methods? Because it jumpstarts the process ofchanging the menu from the inside out, providing an experiential way toempower the hands, hearts and minds of those putting the food on thelunch table every day. That to me is sustainable, a long-term investmentin changing the culture of food in the United States.