Raquel, as chef and owner of A Pinch of Salt in NYC, offers hands-on cooking instruction to adults and children. She believes in teaching children how to eat healthy. This past summer she volunteered at PS 11, in NYC, teaching a group of 3rd graders how to prepare meals using the crops they sold at their very own farmer’s market. Students worked side by side with Chef Raquel making such things as vegetable crostinis and Greek salads and enjoyed eating their creations.
She is now participating in a project to revamp school “food” to real cooked foods, as a part of Wellness in the Schools (WITS), which operates the Cook for Kids program in New York City public school kitchens and classrooms, serving 6,500 children. Under the leadership of Chef Bill Telepan, WITS sends culinary school graduates into public school kitchens to prepare fresh meals from scratch and to educate families about the importance of eating whole, unprocessed food.
As a WITS in Residence, Chef Raquel signed on to train public school cafeteria workers to return to slow cooking. The project involves her staying at a school for a year to insure that the the cafeteria staff will feel comfortable continuing the new menus after she leaves.
She is in residence at PS 53 in the Bronx with a kitchen that has no actual stove, but has a kettle, a steamer, and warmer. There are about 5 cafeteria women. Most of the staff have been there for more than 15 years and are accustomed to warming up lunch food that we as adults may still remember eating as a child. Classics like chicken nuggets, french fries, hamburgers and rolled up lasagna. Although some changes have been made over the years, such as the availability of low fat milk, there is so much more that needs changing.
The new WITS menu is a compromise between school food services and the WITS program. During the first week of the new menu, Raquel and the staff prepared Vegetarian Chili, Rachel Ray’s Mac & Trees (soon to be changed to Pesto Pasta!), Turkey and Cheese Wraps, Asian Chicken with Brown Rice & Corn and Sauteed Vegetable Pizza.
“At first the staff expressed concern that the children wouldn’t recognize these new ingredients, that lunch numbers would decrease, that the peanut butter & jelly option would increase, but I am extremely proud to say that the reverse has occurred,” shared Chef Raquel.”The children are loving the new food and I have gained their trust! The children compliment the new food items, ask for seconds, want to know what’s on the menu for the next day, and as an added bonus, I receive countless hugs and high-5’s for a job well done! In such little time, I already received the title as “the best chef ever!” Now how cool is that?
Among the many things I’ve learned from the ups and downs that have occurred (or those that await me) I remind myself of my purpose: I am doing this for the children. That in itself makes it all worth while, fun, exciting and a blessing. I hope to continue to share my love for food with the kids at PS 53 for as long as I can, whether it be me personally or the spirit I leave behind to the cafeteria workers who will hopefully continue to prepare the same meals with the love and integrity that the children have learned to appreciate. Here’s to a new year with real cooked food and realistic dreams for a better dining experience,”!
To learn more about Chef Raquel Rivera Pablo, visit her site at www.apinchofsalt.com
Be sure to check out Chef Raquel on the Teacher Stories page of this blog and review her recipe in the Recipespage. She will be a monthly contributor to our recipes section.