Monday, April 4, 2011

Cooks Confab Presents: School Lunch! at Fibonacci's by Waters Fine Catering

Clear sunny skies at a crisp 68 degrees set the perfect backdrop for Sunday's event at Fibonacci's Campus Pointe Bistro by Waters in San Diego for the Cooks Confab School Lunch event.
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I had been looking forward to this event for several weeks after getting the heads-up from Chef Andrew Spurgin of Waters Fine Catering. There were 2 main reasons this event perked my interest. The first - I was shocked to hear that a school district was openly working with the community of local farms and chefs to create better school lunches. I have seen the intense resistance that public schools have made toward such needed changes. So, I absolutely needed to see how these changes were being implemented and who was at the forefront of making these big steps. Second - Sourcing ingredients from local farms is an issue that is close to my heart and my business. I wanted more opportunities to chat directly with the local farmers and hear their voice.

I was excited to see the actual farmers who supply the produce to the school districts showcased upon entering the building.
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We were greeted with a cocktail area that included samples from: Tolosa Winery (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir)
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Snake Oil Cocktail Co. (Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice; Strawberry “Milkshake”)
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Waters Bar Service (Housemade Beet "Vermouth"; Hibiscus Extract, Raisin Reduction, Pressed Apple Foam, Micro Radish)
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This one was my personal favorite because of the innovation in its unique mix of ingredients. The flavor profile was rather intriguing and the presentation was hard to pass up.
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We were eventually lured away from bar service into the restaurant for a presentation on the topic of school lunches with the needs and challenges that are faced daily.
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I realized part of the resistance from many school districts to changing lunch menus lies in the immense limitations. For example, all nutrition regulations must fit within $1 for each meal. The lunch items need to be convenient, healthy and desirable. The time to prep lunch for a school of students is limited with limited prep space. In addition, The time to serve these meals is limited to usually 30 minutes. And many schools have around 2000 to 3000 students to feed! Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg of issues.

Here's a chart that speaks volumes for itself:
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However, it can be done and it is being done. Broccoli was finally introduced to the San Diego schools with local farms contributing approximately 1000 pounds a week. The response has been very positive allowing for more forward momentum.

(A side note - this event is reflective of what is happening in the San Diego county school district. I'm curious as to what Orange County and Los Angeles County have going on, if anything at all. If any of you readers have insight, please leave me a message below. I would love to hear from you!)

Skipping forward to lunch. Standing in the long line made me feel a bit nostalgic to the school lunch days with my tray in hand. I remember, as a kid, being excited that my mom had to hand me lunch money because she didn't have time to make me a sandwich. But looking back, I'm not sure what the hype was all about. The food was horrible: packaged tortilla chips with canned nacho cheese, chalupas (still not sure what that was), greasy chimichangas, dry tater tots, cardboard pizza. Oh, and I can't forget the chocolate milk in a plastic bag. So wrong in so many ways.
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Here are few snaps of the stations before the crowds. I was spying for those plastic milk bags but didn't find any. It looks like we're off to a good start.
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Whew, just look at the color on these plates! Each healthy lunch menu item passionately created by some very talented chefs using local produce. Its exciting to think that my own kids would be eating from this menu at school! I definitely want their school lunch to look like this.
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Yep, those are edible flowers! I was kinda' tempted to make an arrangement with the flowers and salad into my coffee cup.
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And of course - dessert!
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This is the Blood Orange Juice Box bar.
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See if you can match the menu item description to the picture:
Beef & Broccoli with Brown Rice
by Jason Knibb – NINE–TEN

Chicken & Local Vegetable "Pot Pie"
by Jeff Jackson & TK Kolanko – A. R. Valentien

Cream of Tomato Soup with Parmesan Cream & Bread Crumbs; Lentil–Barley Soup with Mint Yogurt; Strawberry Yogurt with Chocolate Dipping Sticks
by Trey Foshee & Lori Huffman – George’s California Modern

“Fish & Chips” Wild Striped Bass, Baked Vegetable Chips, Tartar Sauce
by Paul McCabe – KITCHEN 1540
by Donald Coffman – Paradise Point

Suzie's Farm Vegetable "Lasagna"; Jidori Chicken Roulade; Handmade Focaccia; Strawberries n' Cream
by Katie Grebow – Café Chloe
by Amy DiBiase – Chef/Consultant

Salad Bar from Waters’ Organic Garden with “a Bunch of Stuff That’s Good For You;” Fava Bean Tops and Beans, Peas and Tendrils, Garden Herbs; Roasted Vegetables and House Made Pickles; Tofu “Caprese” with Suzie’s Farms’ Cherry Tomatoes, Shiso Sesame Soba with Ginger-Sesame; Trio of Citrus with Strawberry Spherification, Black Sesame
by Andrew Spurgin – Waters Fine Catering
by Melissa Mayer – Martini Media

Wheat “Macaroni ‘n Cheese;” Carrot Turmeric Purée; Diced Vegetables; Gruyère Cheese
by Olivier Bioteau – Farm House Café

Nathan's Natural Alpine Chicken Satay; Thai Almond Sauce; Cucumber Relish
by Antonio Friscia – Stingaree

Potato-Cauliflower Tostada, Yellow Cherry Tomato, House Queso Fresco, Pickled Broccoli Stem, Salsa Verde
by Guest Chef Ricardo Heredia – Alchemy

Cashew Nut Ice Cream Cups with Honeyed Quinoa
by Jack Fisher – Jack Fisher Confections

Spring Flavored Paletas: Blood Orange Juice Box; Choco Banana Milk; New School Tangerine and Cream; Yogurt Honey Granola Pop
by Guest Chef Lisa Altman – Viva Pops

Surprisingly, my favorite was the salad bar of raw and roasted vegetables. So simple and clean!

My other surprise favorite station - the coffee! I have never seen coffee served this way and didn't expect the flavors to stand out so much. You probably won't see this happening in a school cafeteria but you can't kill the coffee lover in me.
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There is another component of Fibonacci's that I will share about on Thursday but I'll leave the topic in suspense until then. And there were some very important organizations with tables set-up in the cocktail area which I will cover separately. In the meantime, I hope this has given you more food for thought....literally and figuratively.

A special Thank You to Chef Andrew Spurgin for the invite! You're a true inspiration and your passion is contagious!
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Cheers!

2 comments:

stacy said...

Joanna, supporting schools and educational reform, Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA), in partnership with the LAUSD Nutrition Network, brings farmers to the classroom who share their farming experiences. They talk to students about how fruits and vegetables are grown, developing a taste and appreciation for farm fresh produce. I have been working in education reform for over 20 years and have seen a remarkable change in the mission statement of school nutrition. California is on the forefront and there are many projects going on to improve school food. Thank you for a delicious post! Los Angeles has created a number of projects that are for review here: http://www.see-la.org/html/projects.html

Best, Stacy (The Herbal Gourmet FB)

Floral Sense said...

Hi Stacy! Thank you so much for your response! I am so excited to learn about SEE-LA partnering with LAUSD Nutrition. And many thanks to you for pushing these necessary changes in our schools! I just checked out the link and will keep it bookmarked. Thank you again Stacy!