Timothy Cipriano: Taking the Lead

Cipriano reduced the number of entrée options to one to focus on a high-quality product, to save money by buying in bulk and to reduce waste. He is working to revamp high school service to include concepts like Asian, barbecue and subs to increase the number of offerings for high school students.

Even with one entrée item offered daily, Cipriano is introducing the students to new meals. “We did shepherd’s pie on St. Patrick’s Day and the kids didn’t like it,” Cipriano says. “They didn’t understand it. We’ll try it again. We want these kids to adapt to different tastes and different kinds of foods.”

Commodity products are another area Cipriano has focused on. Cipriano, who is known as the “local food dude,” is an advocate for using fresh, local produce whenever possible. Last year, he estimates that 12%, or 60,000 pounds, of produce served was from a local source. Cipriano also knows he has to take advantage of commodity products to keep costs down, so he is using those products in creative ways. One example is canned apricots, which were used to make a sweet and sour sauce.

Cipriano also has partnered with the Sound School, a New Haven high school that has an aquaculture and agriculture component. Using basil grown and harvested by students, Cipriano made a pesto chicken that was served at each of the 46 schools.

FoodService Director - FSD month - Timothy Cipriano - New Haven Schools

Other changes that focus on healthy dining include eliminating chocolate milk and serving cereals that have nine grams of sugar or less per serving.

Reaching out: Cipriano’s work doesn’t end when the students leave the cafeteria. “We are on the front lines of hunger,” Cipriano says. “There are children in our schools who rely on New Haven School Food as their only nutrition of the day and that saddens me.”

Because Cipriano is so passionate about feeding hungry children, he has become involved in many projects on the local and national level. In conjunction with Share Our Strength, a national organization that focuses on eliminating childhood hunger, Cipriano has helped organize Taste of the Nation New Haven, a fundraising event that raised $60,000 this year to help with anti-hunger campaigns in the city.

Operation Front Line is another Share Our Strength project Cipriano is involved with. Operation Front Line is a nutrition education program that teaches families how to prepare healthy meals on a limited budget. Cipriano is working to get these programs in his schools that serve low-income families.

Cipriano also was involved in developing Chefs Move to Schools, part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign (see Five Questions for: Timothy Cipriano at foodservicedirector.com). Cipriano hopes to implement the initiative in his district by bringing in New Haven chefs to do cooking demonstrations with the students.

Cipriano also is working on expanding the district’s school gardens. There are currently several school gardens, none of which is large enough to sustain the produce needs of the school where it is located. At Barnard Environmental Studies Interdistrict Magnet School, the students help plant and tend a school garden that supplies some produce for the cafeteria. The garden’s main purpose is as an educational tool for the students.

FoodService Director - FSD month - Timothy Cipriano - New Haven Schools

Cipriano hopes to create a larger district farm that would be used to as a teaching tool. “We’ll try coconuts and pineapples. We know they’re not going to grow, but it’s an educational experience to let the kids understand why they don’t grow in Connecticut,” Cipriano says.

For someone who never thought about school foodservice as a career, Cipriano takes every opportunity to extend his department’s reach. “I was a chef working at restaurants,” Cipriano says about his life before child nutrition. “Did I ever think I would be a bald ‘lunch lady?’ Never. But I love it. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. All bets are off. Everything is on the table.”

“Every year since Tim has been here, we’ve increased the number of meals served each year and we have decreased our cost of food every year,” Clark says. “These two things would have been unimaginable in the program we had before. We’ve gone from corporate, processed food to the White House in two years. Tim has a dogged persistence in focusing on healthy food and getting everyone excited about what we can do in the cafeteria and how we can connect what we do in the cafeteria to the classroom.”

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
cold storage boxes

When working with a small footprint, the back of the house often gets squeezed in the interest of preserving precious seats. But as storage space contracts, these restaurant operators are getting resourceful with everything from shelves to ceiling height to inventory in ways that FSDs can apply, too.

“When we were first tasked with figuring out smaller footprints, when it came to interiors, it was like a bad riddle,” says Trinity Hall, SVP of development for Dallas-based Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which shrunk its prototype from 2,200 square feet to 1,800. “Let’s make it smaller and...

Managing Your Business
food symbols allergens

Bellevue School District in King County, Wash., has reduced the instances of life-threatening allergic reactions by 94% since 2013. Wendy Weyer, business manager for nutrition services, says that success stems from direct communication with the district’s 20,000 students.

Q: What was the first thing you did to start reducing allergic reactions?

A: More than five years ago, we changed our menu signage to provide information to students on what the common allergens were on all the foods that were served at every station. We use symbols such as an egg or a wheat stalk for younger...

Menu Development
induction cooking nuts

Thanks to prolific fast casuals such as Chipotle, guests have come to expect a certain level of customization in their dining options. For almost 50% of Generation Zers, customization is a deciding factor when purchasing food, according Technomic’s 2016 Generational Consumer Trend Report . Taking customization even further, operations are handing over even more control to customers with both build-your-own and cook-your-own stations.

Elder Hall’s My Kitchen station at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., offers a daily rotating ingredient bar with items such as stir-fry,...

Managing Your Business
business marketing concepts drawing

Sharp, smart marketing materials can make all the difference when it comes to drawing a big crowd for a menu launch or upcoming event. With more avenues to cover than ever and fewer resources to go around, operators offer their tips on making marketing work from start to finish.

Start with communication

Whether it’s an in-house marketing department, an outside agency or someone on staff wearing the marketing hat part-time, the right people need to be involved early and often. “Marketing doesn’t always have a seat at the table [like] it should in order to be truly effective,” says...

FSD Resources