CookCamps Make a Comeback

With the return of an in-person school year, school kitchen staff have been preparing for the students to be back in cafeterias. Happy and hungry kids are sitting down at the cafeteria tables and Wellness in the Schools wants to make sure they’re fed delicious and real food. Enter CookCamps: our intensive, up-front training for school cooks, where they hone their scratch cooking skills and workshop the lessons we teach to children. We support all chefs to be able to cook at their best and communicate with students the importance of real food. 

This year, exciting kitchen upgrades and new equipment brought our CookCamps in California and New Jersey to a new level.

In San Rafael, CA, the San Rafael City Schools recently completed construction of its 43,000-sq.-ft. kitchen project, incorporating a large central kitchen and student common areas and classrooms. For San Rafael High School, this means enhanced meal production for district schools, while giving the students a college-style dining space — comfortable seating, study spaces, and “The Bulldog Bistro”, serving both hot and cold meal selections. New facilities were also completed for several smaller schools and elementary schools where WITS implements programming, like Terra Linda High School. These facilities will give cooks more resources to expand meal preparation and scratch cooking. 

The WITS Chef team of Cait Olesky, Hollie Greene Rottman, and Marion Williams kicked off the California CookCamps in coordination with Alan Downing, the Director of Nutrition Services for San Rafael City Schools. The team of WITS Chefs and school cooks produced a dazzling dream menu of scratch-cooked items: four new salad dressings, a Mediterranean Vegetable Hummus Wrap, Pasta with Colorful Marinara Sauce, a Sofrito Rice Bowl, Chicken with Spinach-Basil Pesto Panini, Broccoli Cranberry Salad, and Black Bean and Corn Salad. Not only did cooks learn to prepare these delicious recipes, but they learned clever ways to use leftover vegetables and kitchen skills that will last a lifetime. The recipes are simple to make and packed with flavor — so much so that during the tastings the cooks all wanted seconds. The school staff is excited to prepare their salads and delicious entrees with students this year. 

At Terra Linda High School in San Rafael, Fabiola learned to prepare a delicious, vegetable-packed black bean and corn salad at WITS CookCamp.

In Camden, NJ, we were led by another dream team of WITS Chefs, namely Ricardo Diaz, Rebecca Johnson, Gisselle Madariaga, Anwar Rasheed, and Marion Williams. WITS Chefs and school cafeteria staff similarly worked side by side to learn kitchen techniques and prepare scratch-cooked meals. The CookCamp teams created a salad with cucumbers and onions in the starring role, pasta with spinach and a vegetable medley, yummy muffins, and more — all seasoned and baked to perfection. Everyone enjoyed the sense of community fostered by a delicious lunch. Camden Cooks can’t wait to keep creating more scratch-cooked recipes for students all year long! 

The healthy and colorful lunch WITS Chefs and school cooks prepared during CookCamp in Camden.

CookCamps have already led to some fun new promotional events, including “Try Day Friday” where students tasted pico de gallo in Camden. School cafeteria workers and WITS Chefs collaborated with our partner, Food Corps, introducing students to the combination of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and spices that create pico de gallo. Tastings were accompanied by illustrations of the ingredients’ health benefits: tomatoes give you healthy skin, peppers have a great variety of micronutrients for your body in all their various colors, and onions keep your heart strong (as well as giving pico de gallo a boost in intensity)! Students were able to express how they felt about eating specific vegetables. A huge thank you to the superstar WITS Chefs Camden school cafeteria staff and our Food Corps partners who are infusing these schools with positivity, scratch cooking, and a celebration of yummy vegetables.