The food heritage of many immigrant and first generation students is rich and fascinating, largely healthy, and vastly untapped in school lunch — so we, Evans & Brennan, designed a half-day course for School District Food Service to introduce five international flavor profiles with the hope that these simple and diverse flavors and foods make it to the lunch plate as a sampling of what the world has to offer.
The goal? Increase staff confidence, interest and first hand knowledge of a larger food picture enhancing their ability to educate students about the diversity of food and flavors from around the world.
In July, 2014, Evans and Brennan, LLC, provided a half-day, virtual culinary trip around the world for about 150 employees of Lodi Unified School Food Service, introducing them through tasting, a marketplace experience, and hands-on cooking to Asian, Middle Eastern/Indian, African, Mediterranean/European, and Latin American flavor profiles.
Chef Cody Williams, pictured in the middle at left — who is also Director, School Food Services, Sonoma Valley Unified School District — prepared tasting snacks in each flavor profile, so that every person could taste 4 flavors in each of the 5 cuisines.
Cody hand made the following: for Asian – Pork Siew Mai, for Latin American – ceviche, and for Middle Eastern – Stuffed Grape Leaves and Hummus (pictured left are staff tasting and filling out their “passport” at the Middle Eastern station), for African – Carrot Salad with Orange Flower Water and Pickled Okra.
Mid morning, after a presentation of foods from around the world, Nancy Rostimily, Director School Food Service Lodi, (pictured left in the middle) divided the staff into teams. Nancy has a history of providing enriching, hands-on professional development for her staff, and tailored the program to meet her district’s specific needs and her own philosophy of adult learning.
Each team rotated through each of five flavor profiles for tasting, marketplace and salad making. Pictured left is one such team making Cactus Salad with Radishes (Ensalada de Nopales) for the Latin American flavor profile. While many in attendance make the salad at home, for others it was a first time tasting of cactus pads — a highly nutritious and low glycemic index vegetable.
Another salad was one typically found in the summer in hot, dry Mediterranean climates, with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese – Caprese Salad. Pictured left is a salad-making team consulting on the recipe. California Olive Ranch and Corti Olive Oil both provided CA extra virgin olive oil for the Mediterranean and Latin American dishes. The salads were later eaten as part of a lunch served to attendees, representing each flavor profile, along with a main dish, fruit and desert.
Having experiential learning which involves all the senses is key to excitement — touching, tasting, smelling, hearing and seeing. The marketplace for each flavor profile allowed for all that. An Indian spice tray (pictured left) shows how a typical curry mixture might be made differently in each home by the hand of the Indian cook.
At the end of the day, having filled out a “passport” for the trip around the world — answering questions about what they saw, tasted, enjoyed and learned, staff received a take home gift with spices, herbs and grains to make in their home kitchens some of the recipes provided. Cooking at home what is cooked for school lunch helps to narrow the gap between home and school — part of what this course and the four books we’ve written on school food hopes to inspire.