Taking School Lunch to a New Level: Renowned Chef James McCarthy Leads Chef Training Program at South Burlington Schools

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Friday January 09, 2015

A lot has happened within South Burlington Schools since Rhonda Ketner, the nutritional services director, began her journey with the South Burlington School District a little over a year ago. Ketner shared that her goal has been to bring more local, farm-fresh foods into the school system; a vision that is shared by community partner Common Roots, the organization responsible for farm-to-school education in the district. This new food culture budding within the district is aimed at showing kids the importance of eating healthy foods and knowing what their food is and where it comes from.

This year, in order to improve the lunch programs even further, Ketner is using grant money, raised by Common Roots, to implement a one-year chef-training program into all five South Burlington Schools.

Starting in mid October, James McCarthy, chef du cuisine at Shelburne Farms, and former UVM graduate with a degree in nutrition, began training all nutritional services staff in each South Burlington school. From teaching basic cooking skills to mastering specialty recipes, Chef McCarthy is there to help and train. “The chef training program is a great way for the staff at our schools to learn on the job and to have the support from somebody who works in a different spectrum of the food service industry,” says Ketner.

Chef McCarthy spent one day at each school to get a feel for each kitchen’s individual environment. After the first introductory steps, he had sessions at each school working with staff, helping to do taste tests, serving and talking to the kids, and being the presence that will help the schools maintain and strengthen their mission to serve fresh, healthy meals. “He is also learning from us,” notes Ketner. “Jim has never worked in a school before. He has always worked at 4 or 5 star restaurants, with more of an upscale vibe, so I said, ‘let’s bring some upscale into South Burlington.’”

Getting Everyone on the Same Page

Ketner is also very excited to see the staff at all five schools have the same level of training. She describes the schools as “five different cultures – like serving the needs of five different restaurants.” Ketner sees this chef training program as the next logical step, after using grant money provided by Common Roots last year to buy new kitchen equipment, such as digital refrigeration, that now allows staff to have the ability to store more quantities of fresh, local produce. “Now that we have the equipment necessary to produce the food, we need to get our staff members the training they need to make the best use of the equipment,” Ketner explains. “Then, we will be able to change our menu accordingly.”

South Burlington Nutrition Services is moving one step closer to its mission for healthy, fresh, school lunches by getting each school’s kitchen staff to a sustainable level in order for chefs to produce healthier product. “We are very thankful for our community partners, such as Common Roots,” Ketner says. “We would not be able to do something this exciting without their help. It will make such a huge difference in what we can offer in the future to the children in South Burlington.”

SOURCE: MaryAda DeFelice for Common Roots