Mark Ward 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Two national recipe contest winners reflect on professional lessons learned. Meet Susan Bowers Susan Bowers still remembers the day she received a Kenner Easy-Bake Oven. “I was seven years old,” she says, “and captivated by the thought of cooking all by myself.” Now the child nutrition manager for Ira B. Jones Elementary School in Asheville, N.C., Bowers, cooks for a living! Raised in Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie, her childhood was marked by other foodrelated experiences. “My dad started at the bottom at a food brokerage, peddling dog food from the trunk of his car, and worked his way up to executive vice president,” she recounts. “During the summers, Dad would sometimes take me along on his sales trips.” She also treasures memories of cooking with her grandmother. But her life’s path veered away from those early experiences. Not until many years later did an unexpected midlife career change lead Bowers to school nutrition. But there, she has found a vocation—so much so that she led a team to victory in the 2011 Recipes for Healthy Kids Recipe Contest, sponsored by the Let’s Move! campaign, in association with the U.S. Department for Agriculture. (Entries were required to be submitted by a team comprised of a chef, a school nutrition professional, at least one student currently enrolled in grades 4-12 and at least one parent or community member.) Bowers and her team took top honors in the Dry Beans and Peas category for their recipe for Tuscan Smoked Turkey Bean Soup. This recipe can be viewed on the contest website (www.recipesforkidschallenge.com). But while the site describes how to prepare the delectable dish, the ingredients that went into preparing the cook require more explanation. A Winding Road After high school graduation, Bowers trained and pursued a career in cosmetology, but found it lacked the stability and pay she needed as a then-single mom. Instead, she worked for five years in her father’s food brokerage as a sales representative, calling on a wide variety of clients, including schools. After marrying, her path led to a position as a quality control technician for a Toledo-based food manufacturer. “Then, in 1994, my husband and I decided to leave northwest Ohio and try something completely new,” she narrates. The couple moved to sunny Venice, Fla., where Bowers returned to her training and bought a hair salon. Finding it difficult to work on her feet all day, she eventually sold the business and took a job as a bank teller; she was promoted to teller coordinator within two years. But when a job transfer moved Bowers and her husband to Asheville, N.C., “It was time for me to take a summer off,” she says, “and figure out, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’” Bowers’ grown daughter decided to move her own family to Asheville, so Bowers was determined to find a new job that allowed her sufficient time to be an active grandmother. But what? “The love of cooking had never left me,” notes Bowers, an avid fan of the Food Channel. A friend suggested seeking a job with the school district, Asheville City Schools. When she saw an opening for a part-time nutrition assistant, “I jumped at the chance.” She was hired in 2006, soon moved into a full-time position and by her second year was promoted to her current position as an elementary school manager. Finding Her Niche Still, “Cooking for school kids presented a huge learning curve for me,” Bowers admits. She quickly heeded the advice of School Nutrition Director Beth Palien, SNS: Get involved in SNA. Over time, Bowers discovered that the regulatory parameters for school meals actually made her more creative, providing a framework within which to work. “Creativity is so important to keep things fresh and new,” she declares. “It doesn’t do any good to put the same old stuff on kids’ plates and watch them put it in the trash.” Bowers, who was honored with a 2010 Award of Excellence from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, continues to hone her culinary creativity in different ways. For example, she’s a supporter of the Chefs Move to Schools program, applying inspiration from her peers in the restaurant world to school meals. “It took me more than 40 years,” Bowers concedes, “but my dad always said that I’d find my niche in life. I’m not going anywhere, because if I can help a kid, then I can live forever!” Meet Sylvia Kravitz Sylvia Kravitz, SNS, will never forget her first original recipe. “I was 12 years old and visiting a girlfriend’s house,” she chuckles, “and we decided to make a cream pie from a bunch of bananas. We had a great time thinking up substitutes for all the ingredients we were missing. That night at dinner, our creation had a grand unveiling, but the pie didn’t live up to the billing!” Happily for the San Diego (Calif.) Unified School District (SDUSD)—where Kravitz is now a regional field manager for the school nutrition department—she remained undaunted by her early disappointment and ultimately embarked on a career in nutrition. Until her recent promotion, Kravitz served as a product development technician and can attest firsthand to the ongoing importance of creating new recipes. Lunch Lessons “In school nutrition,” Kravitz counsels, “trends are always changing. New regulations and dietary guidelines may come along. Students’ food preferences change over time. Because we’re always working with commodities, we have to keep thinking of the best ways to use them. Every time you launch a new project—maybe by starting a farm-to-school program, bringing local chefs into the schools or entering the HealthierUS School Challenge—that creates both opportunities and needs for new recipes.” Likewise, recipes may require adjustment to fit the various equipment used in school kitchens. “For us,” Kravitz points out, “the question is always, ‘Can you do that recipe in an oven?’” Then, too, equipment may change over time as old appliances are replaced, new schools are built and production technology advances. Kravitz herself has come a long way since that first banana cream pie experiment. In 2011, she received an honorable mention in the Idaho Potato Commission’s Wake Up to Excellence Recipe Contest for her Idaho Potato Sun Blast. Two years ago, her recipe for Ponzu Tuna Wrap was named a grandprize winner in the Kikkoman Kids Recipe Contest. And in 2009, she took top prize in the USA Rice Federation’s Healthy Rice Bowls Contest with her recipes for Sweet and Sour Shrimp, Teriyaki Chicken with Asian Vegetables, Beef With Broccoli and Fajita Chicken. An Intrepid Spirit Born in the East Harlem section of New York City, Kravitz grew up “in an Italian family that always ate well,” she recalls. Combining that early appreciation for good cuisine with an interest in biology, she attended Hunter College, where a major in home economics “was perfect for me,” she explains, “because we did the science together with the practical skills—including a lot of experimental cooking.” After graduation, Kravitz found work in a local hospital, but changed jobs after just a year when the East Harlem school district hired her as its lunch manager. At one of the seven sites she managed, she met her husband-to-be. Eventually, the newlyweds decided to “go west” and give the Golden State a try. Initially, Kravitz took a supervisory job in dining services for the University of California at San Diego. Then, after taking time off from her career to start a family, she returned to the K-12 level as a cafeteria manager in SDUSD. Over the next 21 years, Kravitz has climbed the ladder from cafeteria manager to area manager to central office positions as foodservice specialist and product development technician. In October, she was promoted to regional field manager, providing oversight to half the operation’s 232 feeding sites, 19 production kitchens and 36 area managers. Kravitz also is the point person for the department’s federal reviews—a mammoth task for a $55 million-a-year program that serves 130,000 meals per day. Kravitz says she is reenergized by her new role at SDUSD. With her own children now grown, she is excited about future possibilities: more community work and travel, particularly a trip to her father’s birthplace in Italy. In all, it sounds like a recipe for continued adventures.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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