By Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2015-06-09 10:12:58
This Month’s Guest LJ Klink Meet LJ Klink, a maverick chef who totally “gets” the nutrition, cost, labor and kid palate challenges that make recipe development for the K-12 school nutrition segment such a complicated undertaking. As a 2011 winner of Food Network’s “Extreme Chef” reality competition (he prepped meals in an arctic hailstorm!), Klink understands formidable culinary tests. SN met Klink at a 2014 education session sponsored by the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council and featuring lentil-based recipes he developed for schools. The dishes (a lasagna, salad and muffin/cupcake) were delicious. They also met federal nutrition requirements and had a reasonable per-portion budget cost. You can learn more about these recipes online at www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonuscontent—and learn more about Chef Klink below. Give us the fast version of your chef journey to K-12. My dad bought a small resort restaurant on an Eastern Washington lake; it had been a dive, with fishing bait stocked next to the burgers in the refrigerator. I started working in the kitchen when I was 13, but by the time I was in high school, I hated chefs and turned down a culinary school scholarship to pour concrete for a summer. Eventually, I found my way back to it, and I discovered I love being a culinary teacher. At home, I cook with as many local ingredients as possible, and one day, my daughter, in kindergarten then, said, “Daddy, can you help my friends eat good food like I get to eat?” I started to tear up by the weight of this five-year-old’s honesty. A few days later, I learned about a non-profit that was looking for a chef to go to schools and do a little teaching. That was my start. You’ve learned a lot in four years. I have. I thought I’d face more pushback about the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act changes, but I learned that most staff support the HHFKA goals; they just may not have the skills and tools to do them well. Or maybe they have skills, but they don’t have the confidence. I’ve been working with Doug Wordell, director of Nutrition Services for Spokane (Wash.) Schools, to create some training and give staff insider tips to help ease anxieties. But, of course, equipment is a huge issue. Tell us about the lentils project. Vegetable proteins are important, and we don’t look at them in America the way our counterparts in other countries do. So, we have to work with the kiddos one on one to get them to try unfamiliar things. I made a lentil chili and persuaded a girl to give it a try—then her friends came over, curious. Suddenly I had five young ladies who had never had lentils before eating the chili and agreeing they would eat it for lunch. One of my colleagues got a phone call from a parent: “How dare you feed the kids lentils—I hate them, but now I have to cook them because my kid likes them.” Our education has to go all the way up to the parents. What was your favorite school lunch as a kid? I ate school lunch almost every day. I loved the “cheese zombie”: a combination of a cheese pizza and a baked grilled cheese sandwich wrapped in dough. I believe a cheeseburger can solve most issues, if it’s done right. What’s your daughter’s favorite meal request? I hope I can say this without getting in trouble: “Poop on a Shingle.” It’s hamburger, with gravy on mashed potatoes—or I do it on quinoa or rice. Very simple. It has milk, garlic, tons of onions—almost as much weight as the beef—and I’ll put in some diced zucchini or another vegetable. As an “Extreme” Chef, what’s one “out-there” food that you’d like schools to offer—even just for a day? Black Buck, an antelope from India is the most delicious meat I’ve ever had. But for schools, I’d have to go with steamer clams. Do a seafood boil. What if you could wave a magic wand and get rid of just one challenge that K-12 operators face? I’d take away the budget restrictions, especially so that schools could serve more international foods and pair that with education. You learn so much about a culture when you learn about their food. An extra $1 per meal would be magic.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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