Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Policy Point Wednesday - Why Chefs Should Move...

Michelle Obama and the USDA recently announced a new initiative, Chefs Move to Schools.  This program, complete with map, pairs chef volunteers with participating schools, where they can help with the school's nutrition and feeding programs, as well as education.

This raises the question: what is a chef, and what is a school nutritionist?  How can this be a mutually beneficial relationship?  I have always thought that schools would benefit greatly from hiring chefs to run their feeding programs, since a chef's background is really about logistics more than food - and feeding hundreds upon hundreds of children is a logistical nightmare.  There is precedence that having a chef behind the wheel benefits school nutrition.

According to the American Culinary Federation, a"Certified Executive Chef," or CEC, "displays leadership and excels in managing and motivating employees. A CEC is a skilled, professional chef who manages the kitchen and has demonstrated the knowledge necessary to ensure a safe and pleasurable dining experience by preparing food that is delicious, nutritious and safe to eat. The ACF CEC follows proven business practices ensuring a financially successful operation."  A Chef is trained to run a business in a problem-solving manner- but at the outset, culinary schools focus on a Chef's kitchen and food skills.  Typically, a chef's education begins directly in the industry as a short-order cook or kitchen worker, and over time they gain the skills and education to move to the executive position - the ACF requires a minimum of 3 years of supervisory kitchen experience to accredit an Executive Chef, although there are also time requirements for the feeder positions for Chef.  While we tend to think of Chefs as menu and recipe-makers, that is only a small part of their job - they are essentially the CEO of their restaurant.

According to the School Nutrition Association,  a level 3 certified school nutritionist must complete a minimum of  150 hours of classroom training, and continuing education is required to maintain their certification.  Required study ranges from food safety to nutrition to operations to marketing.  A school nutritionist may also be a registered dietician, with a BA or advanced degree in pediatric nutrition.  According to the American Dietetic Association, "Individuals with the RD credential have fulfilled specific requirements, including having earned at least a bachelor’s degree (about half of RDs hold advanced degrees), completed a supervised practice program and passed a registration examination—in addition to maintaining continuing education requirements for recertification."

I can see where both these perspectives offer a vital piece of the puzzle when it comes to feeding our nation's students:  nutritionists and dieticians maintaining the wellness and health perspective, and chefs bringing their creative resources to finding healthy, good food and organizing the schools to get that food to the children in the most efficient, cost-effective and palatable way possible.  I think this progam has real merit: if you are a chef or a school administrator, I urge you to sign up for the program right away!

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