Surry County School nutrition professionals participated in a regional K-12 culinary institute this week at Central Middle School.
The institute, which ran from Tuesday to Thursday, was attended by 23 Surry County Schools nutrition workers in addition to several nutrition professionals from neighboring districts.
Cyndie Story and Andy Montero lead the institute, with each participant graduating from the institute as a chef ambassador.
“We’ve never had anything at this level, it’s intensive and in-depth,” Sherri Parks, director of child nutrition for Surry County Schools, said. “We’re hoping as a team that this will have a huge impact and increase the quality of food that we offer our students and adults.”
The institute was funded by a professional standards training grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction received.
Those participating in the institute were managers from the various schools across the county. Following the institute, each manager was sent back to their schools with a set of items to enhance their daily work. The set included a fresh fruit cutter, organizers, knives, knife sharpeners and other items.
“This is a comprehensive front- and back-of-house program aimed at enhancing school meals in North Carolina,” Story said.
The institute combined informative sessions and hands-on activities.
“We’re excited about providing attractive meals at a reasonable price,” Chuck Graham, associate superintendent of Surry County Schools, said. “It’s about teaching children to make healthy choices.”
On Thursday, the nutrition professionals were divided into 12 teams for a garnish competition, with each team having been responsible for preparing one component of a meal. Items that the teams made included cheesy baked penne, crust-less apple pie, baked potato with vegetarian chili, lime and chili sweet corn and nutty Asian noodles with chicken.
All of the recipes that the groups made were created by Story and her team pf nutrition professionals. Following the institute, the receipts will be uploaded onto the Department of Public Instruction’s website which will allow local nutrition workers to incorporate the receipts into their daily routines.
Tracey Bates, school nutrition specialist for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, said that a major focus on the institute was on the merchandising and presentation aspects of school nutrition. Bates added that the recipes that were taught at the institute are “on trend” for school age children.
Story holds a Ph.D. in food and lodging management and has 26 years worth of experience in school nutrition, in addition to being a registered dietitian.
“We’re very fortunate to have her here in Surry County, she’s very popular in our industry,” Parks said.
Story said that there are 384 chef ambassadors across North Carolina.
“We’re hoping for a transformation in mindset, they have years of school nutrition experience so its time that they start wearing the coat,” Story said of the participants of the institute.
Montero is a former instructor at Johnson and Wales University and is the owner of Montero’s Restaurant in Elizabeth City.
Parks said that the grant for the institute provided reimbursement for those who attended the institute, in addition to supplies and equipment used.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is to embrace the chef aspect, not to think of yourself as a lunch lady and this has given me the confidence to think of myself as a chef,” Angela Lawson, nutrition professional at Surry Central High School, said of the institute.
Surry County Schools employ 110 nutrition workers in 19 schools.
Aila Boyd may be reached at 336-415-2210.