About a year ago, the nutrition team at San Bernardino City Unified School District (SBCUSD) in San Bernardino, Calif., was looking for ways to increase the amount of scratch-made meals on its menu.
“Although we've been doing some scratch cooking here, the interest to really push the boundaries was there for us,” says SBCUSD Nutrition Services Chef Alonso Alonso.
The team had heard about a new fellowship program from the Chef Ann Foundation aimed at boosting scratch cooking at schools. Participants of the yearlong program, named the Healthy School Food Pathway (HSFP) Fellowship, learn the ins and outs of preparing scratch-made meals through culinary training, a conference, a capstone project and more.
With his director’s blessing, Alonso decided to apply and was accepted. Now, about halfway through the fellowship, he is already using the knowledge he’s gained. Here’s how.
Diving into training
This school year, the nutrition team at San Bernardino is serving a different scratch-made recipe each month as part of a special limited-time offer.
The district has 74 different school sites, however, so making sure the whole team is comfortable preparing a new recipe from scratch every few weeks can be a challenge.
Alonso hopes that his HSFP capstone project, which is centered around culinary training videos, will make things easier for staff.
“As we're moving to more scratch cooking, and we're looking to do more complicated recipes for our managers, I really felt that we needed something for them to refer back to that was a little bit more focused,” he says.
The videos feature Alonso providing step-by-step instructions on how to prepare a specific recipe. His capstone also includes funding to install tablets in the kitchens that will allow staff to go back and reference the videos on demand while they’re preparing the dish.
Alonso has just completed his first video, which teaches staff how to make Korean Corn Cheese. He is now hard at work getting more equipment to improve his film setup and is planning to release a new video at least monthly.
Networking opportunities abound
As his team works to expand its scratch-made offerings, one of the biggest benefits as an HSFP fellow, Alonso says, has been the networking opportunities.
Over the past several months, he’s been able to develop relationships with other fellows, and together, they’ve helped each other problem solve and come up with new ideas.
“Being connected to people from all across the country has really been a big help,” he says. “We are constantly talking and sharing our experiences, and asking each other for advice and just sharing what we're doing with each other.”
Those networking opportunities also extend to local suppliers and farmers. The team at San Bernardino has wanted to work with local partners for years, Alonso says, but were never sure how to jumpstart those connections. However, he now has a framework for how to approach local suppliers and work their products into the menu.
While the fellowship has been time intensive and challenging, Alonso believes it has been worth it.
“[The fellowship is] something that I really felt has been beneficial for my personal benefit in terms of my growth in my job, to really be able to provide the best quality food and put out there the best menu that I can for our students,” he says. So [it’s been] definitely challenging, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.”