First Day of MenuDirections

A round of flavorful workshops and a fantastic Dine-Around kick off the conference.

Well, the first day of MenuDirections 2012, in Charleston, S.C., is in the book, and it went off without a hitch. From a lunch with foods prepared by nearly 20 sponsors to a Dine-Around at three of Charleston’s best-known restaurants, our 150 operator attendees were treated to one culinary delight after another.

We even got the weather to cooperate with us, as we walked around the city’s Market District for the evening’s event, at A.W. Shuck’s, High Cotton and Fleet Landing. We finished with a dessert reception sponsored by—and provided by—the crew in the Bunge Oils food truck, parked outside our hotel. All in all, it was a fantastic start to our 10th annual conference.

The day began with a small acknowledgement of the fact that this is our 10th annual event. Bill Laychur, executive chef at Penn State University, provided a video remembrance of his attendance at our first conference. As attendees entered the ballroom for the opening session, they were able to view a slide show of photos compiled from all nine previous conferences.

The afternoon’s workshops focused on marketing health, with presentations from Peter Truitt on The Local Movement, Chef Michelle Dudash on Stealth Health, and myself and Dave Zino on Steal This Healthy Idea. Perhaps in deference to the fact that we would all overindulge later at the Dine-Around, the afternoon sessions mercifully contained only one culinary demonstration.

That changes Monday when, after a keynote address by Eastern Illinois University professor James Painter, Ph.D., on 10 Foods for a Healthier Lifestyle, we roll into culinary workshops on Mediterranean, Latino and Korean cuisines.

I have been most impressed by the hospitality of the people of Charleston and the fact that this is quite the food town. I haven’t had a bad meal yet. The hotel’s food and service have been as advertised, and our attendees tell us they have been impressed thus far with every aspect of the conference. I hope we can continue to meet their expectations.

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On every other Thursday of our four-week cycle menu, we allow K-8 students to pick the entree choices. The media center specialist for each of the participating schools sets up the list of entree items on a computer for voting, and the winning entrees are given to cafeteria managers two weeks before the upcoming month to put into production. Students really like this, as it promotes ownership of the menu.

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We highlight our North Carolina products on a large chalkboard in our dining halls, and also list any produce we bring in from our own agroecology farm. It helps tell our story—positive and local.

Ideas and Innovation
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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.

Ideas and Innovation
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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.”

Earlier this year, Saidel, Perkins and Harvey did a student demo featuring roasted chicken and white bean tacos with greens and citrus salsa. “We can say, ‘Why are we using chicken instead of beef? Why are there some beans in here?’ You can talk about plant proteins and the sustainability and health message around...

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