The Big Idea

This month, we present "Steal This Idea" on steroids.

Steal This Idea has consistently been the most popular feature in FoodService Director. But not every idea we receive is small enough to be contained in a box. On the following pages we offer 10 "big" ideas for readers to steal.

The Big Idea, Michael Atanasio, Overlook HospitalCooks Training Program

Michael Atanasio
Manager, Food & Nutrition
Overlook Hospital
Summit, N.J.

Time is a commodity in foodservice, and a lot of my cooks have not had any formal culinary training. To that end, I wanted to develop a culinary training program that would fit in our busy schedule but would offer true culinary arts and be relevant to our staff. I took a formal, college-level culinary program and rendered it down to six 2.5-hour modules. Each module contains a didactic, PowerPoint and practical presentation. Each module builds on the one before it. At the end of each module, my staff will take a written or practical test to demonstrate their knowledge of the module's material. At the conclusion of all six modules, they get a set of knives.

The modules are as follows: Food Safety—a look at safe food handling, purchasing tips and food danger zones; Basic Cooking Principles—explore the fundamental methods of cooking techniques; Soups, Sauces and Gravies—learn about the five mother sauces, stocks and basic soup categories; Understanding Meats and Poultry—a look at various cuts of meat, how to buy, preparation and cooking techniques for each; Fish and Seafood—a look at various types of fish and seafood, how to buy, preparation and cooking techniques; and Vegetables and Starches—a simple look at identifying fresh vegetables and starches, cooking techniques and common preparations.

I piloted this program with some of my managers and opened it up to the community for a small charge last fall so that we could test the program. We have a print shop on site, so I also created a textbook to give to each of the students. I will run my staff through the program this fall.

The Big Idea, Drew Patterson, OSU Medical CenterIn-house Internships

Drew Patterson
Assistant Dir., Food & Nutrition OSU Medical Center
Columbus, Ohio

We had created an assistant sous chef position that required a two-year degree and ServSafe certification. That meant that a lot of our current staff couldn't apply for that position without going back to school. We wanted to find a way to still be able to offer this position to them, so we created a yearlong internship.

The applicants are given the working title, meaning that they will be receiving the benefits that go with the position. They go through equipment training, knife skills and cooking challenges related to diet types. There are classes in purchasing and production. We send them through ServSafe certification. It's really a low-level overview of what you would learn in a culinary school.

Most of the study is hands-on. Applicants participate in mystery basket competitions. We have created tests and culinary challenges that they must take every quarter, and they must pass all tests and challenges. The culinary competitions are staged as live cooking demonstrations. The applicants are given different cooking skills they must use. Sometimes a special diet is involved. They have to continually meet the criteria we set down; otherwise, they simply go back to their
old position.

The Big Idea, Al Muhlnickel, Poughkeepsie City School DistrictRecipe Ideas Contest

Al Muhlnickel
FoodService Director
Poughkeepsie City School District
Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

It is so hard to get teenagers to give me any practical input. Other than them telling me McDonald's, it was very hard to get them to tell me a detailed response. So I started a student recipe contest. This got us a much better response. I got an inch-thick stack of ideas to look through and use for my menu. I can give the students credit and say this was a menu put in by x. We opened this up to our middle and high school students. The students with the top four menu ideas from both schools were taken to the CIA for a tour. We spent a day up there and they got to cook in the kitchen. The CIA had a whole buffet set out for them of the different items they submitted. To see the smiles on their faces was worth every second. The student with the top menu idea from each school was given a laptop, which was donated by Kellogg's. Our free and reduced level is above 80%. Not many of the students have computers; it's the exception rather than the rule in their households. The kids could really use them. Would it have been nice to use them in my kitchen? Sure, but these kids really need these opportunities.

The students could pick lunch or breakfast, and I gave them the government requirements for the meal. I told them I didn't want to see the same things that we already serve. I gave them a food cost to give them some perspective as to how little we have to spend. It came out to about $1.25. I told them I was looking for preferences such as fresh fruits and vegetables, popularity, items that are low in sodium and fat and that show creativity.

Some of the items were well thought out. I asked them to give me the basic protein, starch, vegetable, sides and a little explanation. I didn't expect them to know everything, but I at least gave them something to think about.

One of the more creative ones, and one of the ones that won, took kind of a double-stuffed baked potato and instead of stuffing it with potatoes, stuffed it with eggs, peppers and bacon. The other winner was a chicken quesadilla with cheddar and Monterey cheese, a black bean and corn salad, blue corn chips with a side of salsa, strawberry-orange sherbet with pineapple and low-fat granola with yogurt.

The Big Idea, Criss Atwell, Modesto City SchoolsBetter Bread

Criss Atwell
Director of Nutrition Services
Modesto City Schools
Modesto, Calif.

We have a wholesale bakery here and we've made all of our own bread for 18 years.

This April we started the process of changing our bread from whole wheat to whole grain. We made some significant changes in our sodium and fiber by doing this. Our goal was to switch to whole grain and increase our fiber while either lowering sodium or keeping it close to where it was. We put together a development team, which included a consultant and some of my workers. It was a long process of trial and error to get the finished product. The most difficult part was, when we increased the fiber the consistency of the crust sometimes would be too rough or tough. It took a good three and a half months, but we changed the ratio of water and got that down to where it needed to be. Once we did that we were able to produce it in mass quantities without any deviation in the product. We were able to come up with a bread that we believe is higher in quality and at the same time increased our fiber 45% and lowered sodium over 40%. We have several varieties of the bread from dinner rolls to hamburger buns. We were able to make the changes to all bread items that we produce.

The key was that we found a local miller who was able to give us the whole-wheat flower milled to a consistency that allowed us to work with the bread.

Costs, of course, have increased. We are looking somewhere in the neighborhood of 16% or 17% increase in costs. We knew that going into the project and we were prepared for that.

This will help us with the new school meal requirements. When you look at the new fiber guidelines and lowering the sodium, bread products make up so much of the menu that these changes really alter the whole meal analysis.

We rolled it out on our summer feeding program. It was universal that the students liked it or for them, luckily, they didn't notice a difference, which for us is successful to hear.

Read the old bread recipe here and compare it with the new recipe.

The Big Idea, Theresa Laurenz, Northwestern UniversityEating Classes

Theresa Laurenz, R.D.
Dietitian (Sodexo)
Northwestern University
Evanston, Ill.

This fall we are starting to do programs that teach students more about the technical and emotional sides of food. The executive chef and I are working together to educate the students on how to be able to cook, grocery shop and basically feed themselves. We've found that with this generation those skills have been lost a little bit. We want to make sure they leave school with that knowledge. Last spring we started a little of this by leading a class for graduating seniors on knife skills and how to make grocery shopping healthy and inexpensive.

We are planning on doing a general healthy eating class that will dispel a lot of beliefs about fad diets and will answer questions about what healthy eating actually is. The class will be focused on what the truth about food is. The winter class will be geared toward menu planning. When living on your own, how do you plan a menu? How do you make healthy eating on a budget? What things should you look for on a label? We also want to talk about how to pick out foods at the grocery store. There also will be demonstrations. Our chef always shows the students how to debone a chicken, which scares most people.

We've also made connections with the counseling center to do some sessions geared toward body image, food anxiety, eating disorders and things like that. We are doing a talk on food and mood. So not only will we have the cooking classes and healthy eating that the chef and I will be doing once every semester, we will also have two other talks that will be geared toward those topics. The hope is that we start with these sessions and then grow it into a more formal program.

The Big Idea, Julaine Kiehn, University of MissouriRedefine Variety

Julaine Kiehn
Director of Campus Dining Services
University of Missouri
Columbia, Mo.

We learned that "variety" to our students meant giving them what they want more often, rather than giving them a wide array of options. This idea was confirmed when we opened a new concept called Baja Grill. It's a Cuban/Southwestern concept that serves pulled beef, pork and chicken that we are putting in quesadillas or burritos. It has a very narrow and focused menu. It rated higher on "variety" than our all-you-care-to-eat locations.

We are applying the concept by narrowing our menus to provide the students' favorites more often. So how we build in variety now is by offering a much narrower menu in each location but every location. It's taking something the students really like and putting it on the menu more often. For example, at one operation where mashed potatoes are very popular, we have a different type of mashed potato on each dinner menu. Another location has a different type of macaroni and cheese each day.

As a management person, if I narrow the menu then I narrow the inventory. As a food preparation person, some of the menu items I might only prepare once a semester because of the rotation. If we have that menu item more often then the staff can build expertise in its preparation.

The Big Idea, Deon Lategan, Colorado State UniversityChili Challenge

Deon Lategan
Director of Residential Dining Services
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colo.

We do a Chili Challenge during Fire Prevention Week. I actually stole this idea from my time at Virginia Tech University, but we have put a different spin on it.

We decided to ask the local firehouse if they would like to be involved, which led us to hold the event during Fire Prevention Week.

Student, faculty and staff contestants sign up to compete. Contestants must eat one 8-ounce bowl of chili each day for five days, with each bowl becoming a progressively hotter chili. If a contestant has to skip a day they can eat two bowls the next day to make up for it. On the last day contestants must eat the final bowl of chili plus a habanero pepper.

We have a vegetarian chili and a beef chili, and the firemen serve contestants a bowl of chili and give them a bottle of water. No other food is permitted in the room. Our chefs develop the recipes for the chili, and we post the recipes so contestants can see just what makes the chili so hot. It's not just a bunch of hot sauce. We use four or five hot peppers so it really has a broad heat profile. The chili is hot, but it's flavorful too.

We also invite VIP judges to come in and make sure everyone follows the rules. The event has become so popular we used to have only one judge, but now we have three. For this foolishness the contestants win a T-shirt. We also partner with vendors such as Dave's Insanity hot sauces and other vendors to help support this fun event and include their logos on the shirts students win. We bring in a lot of props such as fire scene tape, fun hot pepper facts and contestants have to sign "The Idiots Release Form." It's really become like a spectator sport. You have all the contestants' friends coming in to cheer them on. Tears just start running down the contestants' eyes. They earn bragging rights just to be able to finish this stuff.

The Big Idea, Bob Ford, Hertiage Valley Health SystemMidnight Delivery Service

Bob Ford
General Manager of Foodservice (Cura Hospitality)
Heritage Valley Health System
Sewickley, Pa.

Cura Hospitality is under the umbrella of Eat'n Park Hospitality Group. Our café wasn't open at midnight at either the Sewickley or Beaver campus. We saw that we had an opportunity. We had two Eat'n Park restaurants in close proximity to the hospitals. In June, we started Night Smiles, a midnight delivery system to employees at the two hospitals.

Orders can be placed by calling one of the restaurants by 1 a.m. seven days a week. A driver from one of the restaurants delivers the food at 2 a.m. We wanted to make sure no cash was handled, so we sell $1 vouchers that are used to pay for orders. At Sewickley the vouchers are dropped off by 2 a.m. in the operator's office. At the Beaver campus, we have Night Smiles voucher drop boxes located throughout the hospital. The driver comes in with security and picks up the vouchers and drops off the food at a central location and people come down when they can to pick up their food. Being that everyone has different break times or nurses can't get off the floor, the vouchers are handed in ahead of time. With the pricing we rounded up to the nearest dollar so there is no change. Delivery, gratuity and taxes are included in the price.

We have a Night Smiles menu that is basically the entire midnight menu that you would see at an Eat'n Park restaurant. We have everything from appetizers, a wide variety of a breakfast items and a myriad of different sandwiches to choose from. We have sides that include garden side salads, home fries and vegetables. We have salads like a Buffalo chicken salad, and Italian classics dishes such as chicken Alfredo pasta.

The Big Idea, Art Dunham, Pinellas County SchoolsPalm Scanners

Art Dunham
Director of Food Services
Pinellas County Schools
Largo, Fla.

We are putting palm scanners in all our middle and high schools. We were using fingerprint scans as a way of identifying students for payment. The fingerprint scan at best was about 65% to 68% reliable on the first pass. If students had oils on their hands it wouldn't register. We'd have to have students clean their hands and then clean the scanner. Or if students didn't put their hand down the right way it wouldn't register. It was taking a long time. At our high school, time is of the essence. They are large student bodies, and the principals have needed to find time for tests or studies to get better grades so they have been reducing the time they allow us for lunch. By the time students have stood in line, many times they leave because they don't want to wait or they don't have time to eat. We had to find a way to get them through the line faster. This worked perfectly. Student identification is two seconds. The scan uses ultraviolet light and identifies your vein and not anything on your skin. It used to take 15 minutes to get through the line and now it's seven minutes. That is with one line. It gives the students that much more time to eat.

We will be the first school district in the USA to try this. We are making this voluntary. They can memorize their 10-digit ID number. It's a little bit more expensive than the fingerprint technology, but when we started with the fingerprint technology it was the same price as this is now.

The Big Idea, Scott Meyer, University of Texas, AustinNutrition Kiosk

Scott Meyer
Associate Director
University of Texas
Austin, Texas

We have implemented a reimaging of our nutrition awareness program, which touches a lot of different bases. For years we've put line color-coded identifiers on our servings lines, which tells the nutrition content for each item. In conjunction with the line identifiers we had our online menu, which had nutrition analysis. This year we decided to discontinue the line identifiers. They look cluttered and take hours of work to keep up with. Starting this fall every location has a nutrition awareness kiosk/center.

It's basically a touch screen monitor that is mounted on the wall and is connected to our website. Students can look at that week's menu and look at the nutrition information. We've also added a filtering system to the nutrition information on the website. Students can search the menu and ask it to only show items that do not contain milk, eggs, shellfish, nuts, etc. If a student can't eat gluten, the system can show what items are gluten free. We also have a button students can press to show what we call "Healthy Selections," which are pre-identified meals for the day that follow American Heart Association recommendations. We provide a minimum of two entrées that follow the new USDA MyPlate.

As part of the reimaging for the nutrition awareness program we put up digital menu boards. We've developed a dozen icons for the menu board that show the name of the menu item with any related icons. Icons show if the item is vegetarian, vegan, contains nuts, diary, etc. Then across the bottom of the screen, because there are 12 icons, we are going to put a key. I think the changing technology drove this change. We knew with the digital menu boards going up that the touch screen technology for the kiosks would be the way to go.