Chef Brings Fresh Food to Big-City Lunch Program

Chef Brings Fresh Food To Big-City Lunch Program

Tue 31 May 2011

Story by The Food Revolution Team
 

In recent years, New Haven Public Schools, Connecticut have undergone a revolution in terms of the food they serve to their students.

In July 2008, Dr. Reginald Mayo, Superintendent of NH schools, and William Clark, NH board of education’s Chief Operating Officer, brought in Chef Tim Cipriano to carry out an overhaul of New Haven Schools’ food. Dr. Mayo was interested in the Farm to school program Chef Tim had developed in Bloomfield, CT, where kids were being fed scratch cooking, fresh local produce and ethnic style entrees. He and Mr Clark wanted their New Haven students to have access to the same standards of healthy food. One small difference- the Bloomfield school system caters for 2,000 young food critics daily. In New Haven, it’s 20,000!

Few big-city lunch programs would dare to make the leap from serving pre-prepared, processed foods to serving scratch food. However, Tim Cipriano is a chef with a “can do” attitude. From a huge central kitchen in Barnes he ships out daily truck loads of freshly-made entrees to New Haven’s 52 schools. In the year 08-09 school menus began to feature mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, mashed butternut squash, roasted vegetables and corn on the cob. All these were produced from scratch using fresh vegetables. In 09-10, pre-prepared chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, breaded chicken and fish patties were eliminated from the menu. Now, roasted “on the bone” chicken is a staple, always served with fresh vegetables and the chicken patties are made with real cuts of meat.

With young children himself, Chef Cipriano appreciates the difficulty in trying to convert kids from their beloved nuggets and pizza to healthier fare. “Never too much change, too fast,” he says. One approach has been to “sneak in” more nutritional value in to the traditional cafeteria food. For example, by ordering chicken nuggets with a whole-grain coating that have been baked rather than fried. Or making a pizza with lots of fresh vegetables on a whole-wheat crust and slipping pureed butternutsquash in to the tomato sauce.

Chef Tim is very keen that the produce served in schools is local. In 2010, purchase of goods from local farms exceeded 140,000 pounds. NH food services are also working with local community groups to start their own farm. The vision for the farm is three fold. Firstly, a five acre educational space where students attempt to grow produce of their own choosing. Secondly, a 35-40 acre space whereby produce will be grown to be used for the schools food program and thirdly, a 50 000 sq ft green house space. New Haven’s schools food program has already included some food grown by students. For example during CT Grown for CT Kids week, produce grown by students featured in the vegetable lasagna and salsa.

Since Chef Cipriano took on the role of Executive Director, New Haven Food Services have moved increasingly closer to a total Central Kitchen model to providing food for students. By this approach they can purchase in bulk, achieving more competitive prices and better quality food. This ultimately allows them to keep costs stable and, most importantly, serve better food to students. Chef Tim is an inspiration to the Food Revolution, we salute you!

The Food Revolution Team

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