Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Cook’s Warehouse Holds Fifth Farm-to-School Session

The Cook’s Warehouse Holds Fifth Farm-to-School Session



Locally Grown, Freshly Prepared Meals for Decatur Schoolchildren

ATLANTA, March 16, 2011 – Mary Moore, founder and CEO of The Cook’s Warehouse, hosted the fifth Farm-to-School “cooking workshop” session to help cafeteria workers and schoolchildren’s meals at the City Schools of Decatur.

Instead of a class, a meeting of the principals was an “Assess - Adjust - Plan” session to the program for the 3,000 children in the City Schools.

A round-table discussion included Moore; Matthew Rao, who proposed the kitchen staff workshops; Jennifer Weissman, a Decatur parent now working with the Decatur School Nutrition Director; Seth Freedman, one of the two chefs donating his expertise and time; Allison Goodman, director of School Nutrition for the City Schools of Decatur; Cathy Chapman, bookkeeper for the School Nutrition program, and Jim Brams, pro bono public relations counsel.

The exchange of information yielded these trends and suggestions for the future:

1. Purchased healthy lunches have increased dramatically in all schools since the Farm-to-School program began. Increases are most significant at the high school where the “a la carte” line selling fast food was eliminated.

2. The cafeteria cooks need more training to function like a commercial kitchen, i.e. prep stations for vegetables needed for all dishes cooked that day, a sauces and stocks station, etc. The discussion helped the leadership group decide that the next hands-on class for the cafeteria staff will be divided by skill, and will be held in three of The Cook’s Warehouse kitchens rather than the entire staff as one group in one kitchen.

3. Ideas for tasking and production were discussed to help the staff think about prepping food for a week at a time rather than daily to help production efficiency. Another move discussed would be to rotate staff among prep stations so all workers develop skills in multiple areas, helping cover absent team members and increasing employee satisfaction.

4. Another site visit was planned to “follow the food” from one of the two base kitchens to one of the five other kitchens to assess processes and procedures, including how each school orders its lunch needs by 9 a.m. and how the base kitchens fulfill those orders. The visit is planned to observe and offer suggestions for greater efficiency.

5. The kitchen staff has learned to avoid the terms “healthy” and “vegetarian,” which lowered acceptance of new items. For example, students were hesitant to try “vegetarian beans” but they love the same beans when labeled “spicy beans.” Future workshops will include tips on food styling and presentation as well as “marketing” ideas for new dishes.

6. The Farm-to-School program influenced the kitchen design and layout at the new Fifth Avenue school, a 4th and 5th grade school opening this fall. The kitchen at this new site will be a full kitchen: staff will prepare and cook all food for its students on site.

7. During a recent state audit visit, auditors were shocked at the limited use of canned vegetables in the City Schools of Decatur. Fresh vegetables have been substituted for many of the canned items previously used.

8. Expenses for fresh produce have increased approximately 33% this year. Expenses for frozen and canned items have decreased somewhat, but the overall increased expenses were manageable because of help from the school board in covering some of the kitchen staff salaries.

9. The Oakhurst Community Garden Project continues to provide hands-on gardening education on site at the schools. This spring, all schools will plant kale, then prepare and taste it at lunch time. School gardens will never be a significant contribution to the raw ingredients for the base cafeterias, but activities like this can help introduce new foods and increase their acceptance among students.

The group’s assessment of the program is now:

1. The City Schools of Decatur cafeterias are at the forefront of the local, statewide and national curve of providing healthy and fresh meals to its children.

2. The cafeteria workers are working harder to produce freshly cooked meals instead of “heat and eat.” The increased work is offset by job satisfaction derived from the cooks walking the breakfast and lunch rooms to “feel the love” and enjoying compliments from the kids.

3. Importantly, Weissman reported that the parents are keenly interested and highly pleased with the changes made to the meal program.

4. Training for the kitchen staff has also changed their own cooking and eating habits at home: some 60% of staff reported increased fresh fruit and vegetables being served and consumed by family members.

This Decatur kitchen staff training program is a joint project of Matthew Rao of Rao Design Studio; The Cook's Warehouse; Georgia Organics, and the Atlanta Chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier International. It is meant to teach easy, efficient and inspired cooking to those front-line cafeteria workers who feed our children one or two meals, five days a week.

The Cook’s Warehouse is greater Atlanta’s premier gourmet cookware store and cooking school with three locations in Midtown, Decatur and Brookhaven. It offers more than 15,000 products for the kitchen and operates the largest avocational cooking school in the Southeast, conducting more than 600 classes yearly, often taught by local chefs, and has a large web-based delivery-by-post site.

Owned and operated by founder Mary S. Moore, The Cook’s Warehouse also retails high-end appliances; conducts private cooking classes for unique celebrations and corporate events, and is a pro bono partner with virtually every major cooking event and gourmet association in Atlanta.

1 comment:

Eating Decatur said...

What a great outcome! Way to go Decatur!