Guest Post by Dean Zatkowsky

As we wrap up Culinary Boot Camp, I’m most impressed by two things: 1) how much the students relaxed and came to enjoy the class by the end of day two, and 2) how often the teachers talked about what they were learning. I’m an old-school student of organizational management, and hearing teachers talk about what they are learning from students really goes straight to my heart.  Here are some snapshots of the teachers and students that participated in this week’s School Food Initiative Culinary Boot Camp:

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During our initial icebreaker, participants cover their name tags and try to remember each other’s names based on the food item with which it is associated.

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Two students demonstrate proper techniques for hand-washing.

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Chef Kirsten and Chef Janet have been conducting Culinary Boot Camp for years, but they continue to learn from students and from each other.

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Chef Naomi points out some fine print in a recipe. After my week at boot camp, I’d suggest that every line of a recipe should be treated as fine print.

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The Lompoc Unified School District Central Kitchen was a perfect venue, in that it was large enough for 14 students and six instructors, yet it was intimate and homey enough too. Plus, they have all the great gear, from tilt-skillets to giant Hobart mixers to blast-chillers.

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One of the things I love about the Chef Instructors is that they know they can be serious without being somber. Cooking for kids and teachers is serious business, but that’s no reason to not have fun along the way.

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We encourage students to try new things: new recipes, new equipment, new methods, etc. But there’s always a Chef Instructor nearby to lend a hand and some moral support.

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Some students used a Tilt-Skillet for the first time, and I liked to remind them that not every chef can say they used a canoe paddle in the kitchen today.

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The giant Hobart mixer is like your KitchenAid on steroids. When you are cooking for hundreds or thousands of kids, the right equipment can really make the difference.

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Chef Claud led our discussion of the film Food, Inc., which was one of those times we couldn’t make light of things. Powerful forces are aligned against us in our quest to provide real food to school kids. But innovative Food Service Directors have shown us that real food can be as economical as processed “food products,” and if we offer the opportunity, kids will make the right choice.

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Here’s a bit of trivia I learned at Boot Camp. Do you know why chef’s coats have those two rows of buttons? At midday, when the coat is dirty from meal prep, you can re-button it with the clean side out for the rest of the day.

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Students and instructors alike kept reviewing recipes. It was a bit like the old “measure twice, cut once” philosophy of carpenters. And it’s really important in school food production, because the food has to taste great for kids, and it has to portion properly for both nutrition and economy.

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To this observer, Culinary Training was also very uplifting because I saw an earnest desire among students to help one another. There were no idle hands; everyone looked for opportunities to pitch in.

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When cutting something tough, use the heel of the knife and add leverage from your support hand. My wife is going to be very impressed with my new kitchen skills.

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Chef Bethany is a favorite with Boot Camp students not only because of her boundless energy, but also because she cooks for a school every day, and truly understands the challenges facing other food service workers.

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This was Chef Luis’s first Boot Camp, and he brought a great attitude and mad skills. Much of his experience is in high-end Los Angeles restaurants, and he told me he mainly uses slicers like this to make dried fruit garnishes for fancy cocktails. Here, he slices roasted pork for the day’s lunch.

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Student volunteers demonstrate a hyper-efficient assembly line.

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How many chefs does it take to measure some sauce? That’s the wrong question. These students are learning the most efficient way to execute a proven recipe that meets government standards and satisfies kids’ picky palates.

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