Chefs who make a difference

These 10 chefs are influential not only in their operations but their communities as well.

Eli Huff
Executive Chef, Culinary Operations Coordinator
Union Public Schools
Tulsa, Okla.

Why Eli?
According to Lisa Griffin, R.D., director of child nutrition:

“Eli Huff is making a difference in 15,000 student lives. He has transformed our school meals into healthy, tasty meals that kids look forward to eating. Our participation has increased by 5% for lunch and 11% for breakfast, largely due to Eli’s great food, even when the new regulations caused other districts to decrease in participation!

Eli has developed relationships with students. They are excited when they see him in the schools and know him on a first-name basis. Many times he is seen with young students hugging his legs and getting his undivided attention. Staff have embraced Eli’s ideas and training, learned new techniques, and become engaged and proud of their newfound skills. Eli has raised our farm-to-school program to a higher level, optimizing the usage of local foods, and providing healthier, fresher choices. He has started culinary internship opportunities in our cafeterias for culinary students from nearby college programs. Most interns choose to become our employees, which raises our professional competencies.

Eli has a big heart. When the tornado left Moore, Okla., in shambles, Eli took food and supplies to the affected people. He was so touched by the devastation and needs that he came up with an idea to help the students that were affected by the tornado. He, along with three other chef friends, developed Chef Aid, a food event that brought about 40 restaurants and suppliers together to raise money by providing meals and a silent auction. The event was put together in less than three weeks, raised $70,000 in profit, and was successful because of Eli’s efforts, abilities to organize, connections with a multitude of influential people and organizations in the community and peers’ respect for him.

When Eli’s name is mentioned, the reaction is the same from everyone: ‘Wonderful!’”

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We have raised garden beds that residents can reserve and use to grow their own plants. Whenever a resident brings me fresh produce from their own garden, I try and incorporate it into a dish. If I do end up using it, I will display the resident’s name and what the produce was next to the dish on the menu.

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Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

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