Tuesday, September 29, 2009

School lunches

Maybe I was just lucky but I have pretty good memories of the school lunches back in Burrton, Kansas... my favorites included the pizza, bierocks, and cinammon rolls.

Sadly not much food gets cooked in schools anymore... hopefully that will change:

But little actual cooking goes on in the nation’s largest public school system, largely because little of it can. Barely half of New York’s 1,385 school kitchens have enough cooking and fire-suppression equipment so cooks can actually sauté, brown or boil over open flame.

Even in those that do, aging ovens sometimes don’t heat properly, equipment is hidden away in storage rooms or broken, and the staff isn’t trained to do much more than steam frozen vegetables, dig ravioli out of a six-pound can or heat frozen chicken patties in a convection oven.

New York is not that unusual. More than 80 percent of the nation’s districts cook fewer than half their entrees from scratch, according to a 2009 survey by the School Nutrition Association.

The slide didn’t happen overnight. As many American families stopped cooking and began to rely on prepared and packaged food, so did the schools. It became cheaper to cut skilled kitchen labor, eliminate raw ingredients and stop maintaining kitchens.
“In school food 30 or 40 years ago, they roasted turkeys and did all of these things,” said Eric Goldstein, the chief executive of the Office of School Support Services.

One New York school, however, is bucking the trend:

On a recent Monday afternoon in the back of a middle school kitchen in Queens, it sounded as if a deal was going down.

“You want garam? I can get you garam.”

Jorge Collazo, executive chef for New York City schools, was making an offer to Sharon Barlatier, the manager of one of the largest middle school cafeterias in New York, and, by extension, the country.

Her job is to entice nearly 2,000 students at the height of adolescent squirreliness to eat a good lunch. Because many of her students at Middle School 137 come from families with Indian roots, curry is one of her secret weapons. The spice mix garam masala might improve its firepower.

She has to make curry from a limited list of ingredients approved by the Department of Education: frozen pre-roasted commodity chicken parts, jarred chopped garlic and a generic curry powder.

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