By: Hollie Greene
This January, our WITS Chefs out West rang in the New Year with a healthy concept to excite Novato California high school students about their cafeteria menu: a featured chef pop-up where they can build their own grain, protein and vegetable bowl. The build-a-bowl food trend of 2018 remains popular in fast-casual restaurants across the Bay Area where Poke Bowls, Quinoa Bowls, and Sushi Bowls are colorful, crunchy, and packed with healthy options.
Working with their restaurant partners, Chefs Bruce Hill and Ethan Howard, WITS Chefs Cait Olesky and Nancy Larson “wok’d the line,” serving up healthy stir fry dishes for the first one hundred students that could locate the pop-up station in the Novato High and San Marin cafeterias. Students chose as many vegetables as they wished in their stir fry from their salad bar. Options included favorites like baby corn, water chestnuts, spinach, sugar snap peas, and shredded carrots. Next, they brought their selections up to the wok, where in just under sixty seconds WITS Chefs quickly sauteed their veggies with a splash of signature garlic ginger soy sauce, serving it over whole grain brown rice. Students who wanted to create an even more plant-forward meal chose the pre-cooked ginger tofu protein option, and those looking for a little more kick opted for the sriracha chicken option. Grace Nakashima, President of the Cultural Culinary Club, says, “I’m excited about the chef pop-up bars because they introduce healthy ways to introduce cultural foods that aren’t typically represented in the cafeteria and may also encourage students to cook and eat healthier at home.” Members of the school administration staff also got to participate in the event. Says Campus Supervisor Monique Bethel, “This meal was delicious! I especially enjoyed the tofu. I don’t usually eat tofu!”
Our team dreamed up this concept after learning from the best practices of Vermont Food Services Director, Doug Davis, of the Burlington School Food Project. When Burlington High Schools started offering made to order solutions during the 2015-2016 school year, they saw their vegetable consumption go up, students started lining up early for lunch, and in a surprising twist, they saw students taking the tofu protein option most often. Our vision for the Novato pilot is to create an opportunity to engage with students in a new way, learning which global flavor profiles and creative custom meal solutions they would vote to see in future chef pop-ups, with a goal of three to four new K-12 fully reimbursable menu options to be rolled out during the 2019-2020 school year.