Mark Ward 2013-02-28 04:52:21
A school nutrition director and her executive chef demonstrate a winning recipe for a successful school meals partnership. Meet Linda Stoll When Linda Stoll, SNS, was hired in 2010 to direct food and nutrition services for Jefferson County Public Schools, administrators at Colorado’s largest district soon brought something troubling to her attention. “A studentproduced video was circulating on the Internet that blasted our lunch program,” she recounts, “and the School Board had seen it.” The video proved to be the catalyst for sweeping changes that Stoll, winner of the 2012 FAME Silver Leadership Award, now regards as among her proudest professional accomplishments. “We brought in a consultant, conducted focus groups and found that students wanted ‘fresh’ food,” she explains. “We called them the “Chipotle Generation,’ because they’re used to fresh food, made and seasoned to order.” Such a mandate ran up against a harsh reality, however. “We don’t have the equipment in our 150 schools to do scratch cooking,” Stoll reports. Meeting the Challenge First, Stoll admitted her forte was management, not cooking. “I’m not a trained chef,” she readily acknowledges. Thus, she decided an executive chef was needed at “Jeffco” Public Schools to develop nutritious and appealing scratch recipes that its kitchens could actually cook. But there were challenges associated with filling the position. “We were afraid a school position wouldn’t be on the radar for restaurant chefs and culinary institutes,” she recounts. To find what they needed, Stoll placed an ad on SNA’s Career Center at SchoolNu trition.org, which attracted a trained chef from an East Coast school district. “That was great,” Stoll continues, “because we wanted someone who’s good with kids and knows enough about school nutrition to be the face of our program.” Eventually, however, even good fits move on to new opportunities, and last fall, Stoll needed to fill the position again. She promoted Yuri Sanow (see next page) to be Jeffco’s next executive chef. Among his responsibilities, Sanow develops recipes, trains cafeteria managers, tests products, coordinates with local farm agents and runs a small production facility. It’s an excellent partnership, notes Stoll. “My job is to maintain the vision and find the resources. But it’s great when I don’t have to be the expert for everything. I can just sit down with Yuri and ask, ‘What are the next five [scratch] menu items?’” To boost onsite scratch cooking, Stoll arranged for steamers to be installed in all 150 Jeffco schools. She also worked with vendors to implement a “quick scratch protocol.” As Stoll explains, “We can now get ‘naked’ protein from established processors in the form of precooked meats with nothing added. Then, we can turn these into ‘school-made’ creations.” Hiring an executive chef was not the only new initiative spurred by the 2010 assessments. Today, secondary school students can choose made-to-order foods at stations for burritos, pasta, burgers and Asian bowls. Grant funding helped to pilot a Harvest Bar program. Use of fresh Colorado produce in all meals is on the rise. A universal breakfast program was launched in more than 20 schools, and overall breakfast participation has risen 80%. A feasibility study has been conducted for a future $9.9 million central production facility. An Unusual Path The source of all these accomplishments may have been a broken elbow. The injury required Stoll to spend some of her youth in a hospital, prompting dreams of becoming a doctor. “But it was the 1950s,” she recounts, “and being a dietitian was more ‘suitable’ for girls.” A 1968 Colorado State University degree in food science and nutrition led to a job with the Dairy Council of Colorado before Stoll opted to stay home, raising a family. “In 1983, my husband and I decided we were in a rut,” Stoll continues, “and uprooted ourselves to Alaska!” In Wasilla, after initial work with a state agency, she was hired, in 1985, to direct foodservice for the local Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District. The district stipulated that she earn a master’s degree in public health within two years—a feat she managed by flying four times a year to California’s Loma Linda University. In 2004, she accepted an offer from industry to develop an interactive digital nutrition education curriculum in Atlanta, and after completing the project, Stoll returned home to Colorado in 2006, being named nutrition director for the Boulder Valley School District. Her 2010 move to Jeffco “is the capstone of my career—and yet my passion and enthusiasm remain high, because every day brings new challenges!” Meet Yuri Sanow A single moment confirmed for Yuri Sanow, executive chef at Jefferson County (Colo.) Public Schools, that his career move from the restaurant trade to school nutrition was the right decision. “I’d put out a tabouli salad, a Middle Eastern dish, and told a student to try it,” he recalls. “A week later, I put it out again—only this time the same student was telling his classmate to try it. That incident really refueled my fire!” Sanow admits that “nine out of ten culinary school students want jobs with fine dining establishments.” But since turning to school nutrition, he exclaims, “I’ve had to be more creative than ever before!” Unfortunately, the lingering “lunch lady” perception, he laments, turns off many young chefs. “But as more chefs like me start making satisfying careers in schools, it’ll become a more acceptable option. School nutrition has a lot to offer: reasonable hours, great creativity and a chance to make a mark on the next generation.” A Match for Scratch After climbing the ladder in the restaurant world, Sanow took a sous chef position in Boulder (Colo.) Public Schools three years ago. A year later, he joined the “Jeffco” school district to manage its warehouse, as well as a production facility for charter school contracts and catering services. In Fall 2012, when the executive chef slot became open, he earned a promotion from Nutrition Director Linda Stoll (see previous page). In his new role, Sanow develops scratch recipes for 150 school kitchens transitioning away from heat-and-serve processed foods. Next, he trains 150 cafeteria managers to execute those recipes as intended, without 150 variations. Despite his love for teaching, training a school kitchen staff has its challenges. High production volumes mean quality must be paired with efficiency. “We have the dual challenge of raising the knowledge level of our staff, while also developing recipes they can reasonably prepare,” he adds. But Sanow has confidence in his team. “Cooking good, wholesome foods from scratch doesn’t have to be difficult,” he asserts. “It can be done efficiently and within their skill level—provided they’re given the right recipes and the right training.” Always Growing Sanow has been learning such techniques for a lifetime. Growing up in New York, food was central to his Ukrainian heritage. “I spent many precious hours making pierogi and borscht with my grandma, aunts and mom,” he recounts. “I just loved the way that food created a camaraderie that brought people together and cheered them up.” While attending college as a pre-law major, Sanow worked part-time as a restaurant cook. By 1998, he had to make a choice. “I stuck it out and got the degree,” he recalls, “ but realized I wasn’t going to be a lawyer.” After graduation, he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America and completed its program. His first professional stop was an upscale restaurant in Naples, Fla. Then in 2001, Sanow moved to the ski-resort scene in Breckenridge, Colo., and the following year, to Vail, where he had enjoyed training from world-class chefs. One boss shared a lesson Sanow has never forgotten: “Since your cooks are watching you all the time, you must do everything right all the time. If you take shortcuts, so will your cooks.” In 2004, Sanow moved again, to Denver, for a chance to be a sous chef and to manage other chefs for the first time. But six years later, managing chefs 14 hours a day at a Colorado casino, “I’d reached a point where I wasn’t really learning and growing. Since I’d always liked the idea that food makes people happy, I was intrigued” by the sous chef opportunity at Boulder Public Schools. Another influence was the issue of childhood obesity. “My decision to enter school nutrition, ” Sanow relates, “has given me purpose again. It motivates me to think that I’m cooking for kids who are the age that I was when I got a passion for good food!” Current Title: Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services City, State: Golden, Colo. Bedside Book/Magazine: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James Someone You Admire: Hillary Clinton Top of the Bucket List: Visit Italy Dream Dinner Guest: Robert Redford Favorite Subject in School: Science Current Title: Executive Chef City, State: Golden, Colo. Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Restaurant chef (“or pro football player!”) Bedside Book/Magazine: Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky Top of Your Bucket List: Visit Asia Dream Dinner Guest: Anthony Bourdain Hobbies: Mountain biking, skiing, fly fishing, camping
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