The “LIVE-SETTING”​ Approach to School Food Service Culinary Training

I had the pleasure of teaching a cooking class to a group of school food pros using a “Live Setting” approach. In a “Live Setting” approach, school food service teams train in their live working environment during regular production. In this format, your program can continue to earn valuable reimbursements and simultaneously receive the quality skills your teams need and can use everyday! There is no need to wait for early release days to train your teams. These trainings are completely customized to work with your equipment, your environment, and your situation, to meet your team’s most urgent training needs, all in live production.

Here is how a “live-setting” Class comes together. This example is from Concrete School district.

Concrete has been hard at work growing their farm to school program, so we will be utilizing as much local product as possible. This will give us a platform to not only support local farms and serve kids fresh, delicious, REAL FOOD but it also provides an excellent marketing opportunity. For marketing purposes at Concrete we are making this an entire school event and calling it a Mid-Winter Taste of Washington Day. The F2S Coordinator for Concrete is preparing a press release to go out to local newspapers. Pictures, videos, and descriptions of the events will be prepared for their social media outlets. As program directors, we should take every opportunity to “shout it from the rooftops” when we are going to the extra effort to feed kids better!

The training will be a complete package. Not only will it be focused on Whole Foods and Scratch Cooking in a “Live Setting” but we’ll also incorporate Farm to school and Marketing. If you’ve followed my articles of late you may recognize that I am talking about the four pillars that are needed to succeed and create positive, sustainable, change in today’s child nutrition environment!

How these “Live Setting” classes come together:

  • A week or two in advance, I’ll work behind the scenes with the director to create a customized training plan that will work well in their environment. The last thing I want to do is come in and teach something that won’t be applicable tomorrow. The goal is to always teach something that the team can duplicated later, on their own, without having to drastically change how they do business.
  • I’ll send the director a detailed list of all of the ingredients required to pull off the menu we decide upon. We will also work in as many commodities foods as possible to save a few bucks. The director makes sure all of the ingredients are in stock on the day of the training.
  • On the day of the training, at the team’s normally scheduled work time, we will convene in the kitchen and go to work! Through the course of the day, I direct the team in the execution of the meal and focus on knife skills and other foundational culinary principals such as braising and the use of salt in scratch cooking, in this case.
  • We discuss staging, timing for freshness, and how best to utilize their cooking equipment (steamers, ovens, griddles, hot/cold holding, etc).
  • We explore some best practices for service to students. In this case, I will teach them what I call, the “deconstructed casserole method”. It is basically what it sounds like. We keep all of the components in separate steam table pans. This will allow for improved student choice and provide customization options. This approach also allows for an instant vegetarian option. With the meat kept separate from all of the other components, you can meet child nutrition regs by “offering” the protein which the student, choosing to eat vegetarian, can decline, as long as they have the three required components. Works great! Another nice thing about the “deconstructed casserole method” is that you can greatly minimize food waste. Leftover foods are all separate instead of mixed together which facilitates proper cooling and allows for re-fabrication of the leftovers into a new dish tomorrow, maximizing yield. Most reheated casseroles are not appealing to customers. Seriously…eww…
  • We also discuss and prepare for options, such as “finishing bars”. I have found that kids love to customize their meals with little self-serve add-ons. In this case, we may provide some sort of bottled hot sauce for those who like it spicy or maybe some fresh chopped herbs or gremolata for a great blast of sodium-free freshness.
  • Then the funnest part! We set it up and serve it to the kids! Instant gratification for everyone! The kids get a fantastic, scratch-made, whole foods-based lunch and the food service team gets the immediate satisfaction of having prepared this new menu they never new they could produce at school!

Here is Concrete’s Menu:

Braised “Local Beef” Stew (beef chuck)

Scratch-Made, Pan Gravy (a delicious by-product of the beef braising process)

Roasted Local Winter Root Veggies (Carrots, Parsnips, Turnips, Rutabagas)

“Smashed” Potatoes (local German Butterballs)

Whole Grain Focaccia (made from “Shepards Grain” whole wheat Flour, which is grown in WA state)

Doesn’t that sound fantastic?!

The last thing I would like to mention about the “live setting” approach to training is that it is such an effective method for really connecting with, and retaining, the material being taught. Instead of just a theoretical classroom training or even a demo approach, staff get to touch, taste, serve, and see everything they make come to fruition in the form a meal served to their regular, daily customers. Hands-on skill elements combine with the live-action production of a meal. It’s a fantastic training approach! And, as mentioned before, your team gets trained, kids are served a fantastic lunch and you get to collect your reimbursement all the while! It’s a win-win for everyone!

If you’re intrigued by the “live-setting” concept, give me a call and we can discuss some options for a training in your district!