Today was the first full day for New York City’s public schools and The Future Cooks Initiative is gearing up for the 2012-2013 school year. While anxious Kindergarteners were gathering in cafeterias and older kids were negotiating to get their goodbye kiss before arriving at the playground, Wellness in the Schools (WITS) was here at The International Culinary Center training for the new school year. WITS will be partnering the New York City Department of Education’s SchoolFood to offer healthy, from scratch meals in about 30 public schools this year and will complement their work in the cafeteria with cooking and nutrition programming in the classroom. We’re proud to support their efforts and to be a WITS restaurant partner at PS 20 here in Manhattan, and we’re definitely looking forward to the “Apple Lab” with the kids during the week of October 1-5.
Marjorie Wolfson of WITS Rallies the Troops
Through WITS and other efforts we’re leveraging the resources of our culinary community to help kids develop healthier, more responsible eating habits. More to come, because we’re back to school!
I’ve mentioned that it’s good to have an accomplished New York City chef spearheading The Cooking Room project at PS 3 in Manhattan, right? Well, it’s even better when that chef is also writer in demand. Check out Zak Pelaccio’s first blog piece for the Huffington Post here. It’s all about our culinary literacy classes.
The school year is over or drawing to a close across the country, but school food in America remains a hot button issue. It should. While no single cause for childhood obesity or chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes can be statistically pinpointed, there is one common place where kids’ relationship with food can be addressed – in schools. As most teachers will tell you, the summer isn’t idle time; it’s when the groundwork is laid for the next year.
Efforts are already underway to change the way schools address food. Michelle Obama is campaigning for healthier school food, and has put chefs in the White House garden and in the spotlight with her year-old Chefs Move to Schools initiative. Jamie Oliver is trying to affect change with his Food Revolution. Rachel Ray is designing meals for New York City’s public schools and partnering with the city in nutrition and garden education. All are good efforts; none really hit the bullseye. Celebrities bring attention to the issue, but this isn’t the Love Boat, cameos won’t cure the problem in a neat one-hour program.
Part of what we’re doing at The Future Cooks Initiative is gathering information about grassroots programs working in schools. If you were in a school this year or set to enter one this fall, let us know what you’re doing. Failures, challenges, and successes, we want to hear what’s going on. So, shoot me a brief description and a link to a website or blog if you have one and let’s get this conversation going.
I’m Phil Gutensohn, the Executive Director of the Future Cooks Initiative (and the guy holding the chicken by the neck if you scroll down on this page). It’s been brought to my attention that readers don’t necessarily click on “About” tabs to learn about a blog. Fair enough. I’m new to this medium and hope you forgive the oversight. Following is a thumbnail sketch of what The Lunch Box is about…
The Lunch Box is the online presence of The International Culinary Center’s new non-profit, The Future Cooks Initiative. Our conversation is going to be about helping kids develop healthier, more responsible eating habits. We’re going to focus on real world, scalable programming, and share information on programs we’re active in.
We know the problem. Childhood obesity is on the rise and chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes are affecting younger populations. You’ve probably heard it before, but if these trends continue, this will be the first generation of Americans to have shorter lifespan than their parents.
At The Future Cooks Initiative we believe we can do better right now, with this generation. It’s going to take work, and The Lunch Box is our way of not just letting you know what we’re doing in this food fight, but engaging the talents of our students, alumni, and the wider culinary community to find answers that work.
Wellness in the Schools (WITS) is a program that gets into the mix. When I think of WITS, I think of their Cook in Residence at PS 126, Robin Hom, pushing kids in the lunch line to eat chicken cacciatore and roasted broccoli rather than take a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or Chef Bill Telepan nearly inside a steam kettle checking out the contents, or Nancy Easton across the table from a principal assessing the progress of the program in their school. I think of everyone hard at work, because that’s been my experience with WITS. Well, every once and a while a nonprofit has to go from behind the scenes and into the spotlight to raise the money necessary to keep things moving forward. Last night was that time for WITS at their annual fundraiser.
The International Culinary Center (ICC) was happy to support the event with Chefs Annette Tomei, Angela Dimino, Tara O’Keeffe, and student Darelle Green preparing and serving 500 plus Almond White Gazpacho Shooters with Shrimp and Grissini to a hungry crowd. The ICC is both a financial sponsor and restaurant affiliate of WITS and we’re proud to be a part of their work behind the scenes and under the spotlight. Though final tallies aren’t in, the night definitely looked like a success; but if there’s one truth in nonprofits, it’s that more help is always needed. To find out more about how you can help WITS, check out www.wellnessintheschools.org.
A picture of our culinary team at the event…
Of course, the student is hard at work in the background.
We’re excited to be involved in the development of another non-profit, The Cooking Room. The Cooking Room is a food literacy program for kids being put together by a group of parents and faculty at PS 3 in Greenwich Village. When you’re putting together a program like this, it always helps when one of those parents is a world-class chef like Zak Pelaccio.
The Cooking Room uses some of the same fundamentals used to train cooks to come into a professional kitchen. You train them to taste (bitter, sour, sweet, salty, and umami). In the cooking room, you use real, and sometimes unfamiliar, ingredients—puntarella and tamarind come to mind.You also train in basic culinary technique (peeling, chopping, stock making, baking, etc.). Essentially, you train them to look at real, whole foods as something accessible to cook and eat. And it’s amazing what they’ll eat when they prepare it.
In addition to assisting with curriculum and volunteers, occasionally, I get to step in for Zak when he’s taken away by business. Following are some shots from the Chicken and Rice Soup lesson.
Wellness in the Schools (WITS) is non-profit that has planted itself directly in the battlefield of the current food fight in schools—cafeterias. The organization brings a WITS Cook in Residence to participating schools to work with cafeteria staff to provide additional healthy and from scratch options for kids and bridge the distance between lunchroom and classroom with in-class food lessons. We’re a sponsor and restaurant partner of WITS. Additionally, several WITS Cooks in Residence are graduates of The French Culinary Institute’s Classic Culinary Arts program, including Robin Hom at our sponsored school PS 126. We’re on the ground with Robin and the cafeteria team working toward innovative solutions to challenges that cafeteria staffs face.
Follow our efforts in and out of the cafeteria at PS 126 on The Lunch Box. Check out photos from a recent lunch day at PS 126 on our Flickr page.