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Getting nutrition staff engaged

Chef Jennifer Brower gives some insight into Chartwells K12’s Midwest Culinary Masterworks program.
Chef Jennifer Brower
Photograph courtesy of Chartwells K12

As Midwest executive regional chef for Chartwells K12, Jennifer Brower has been leading the foodservice company’s Midwest Culinary Masterworks program for almost a decade. The program, which began in 2000, teaches nutrition staff from school districts throughout the region everything from basic knife skills to how to create a roux from scratch.

Here, Brower shares a bit about what makes the weeklong class tick and how she engages the students and her co-instructors.

Q: Can you share why you give every attendee a chef’s hat and coat, and why they personalize the hats with their names?

When we bring them in as a class, we want them to all look in unison. So we put chef coats and hats on all of them, even though most of them are not chefs. We want them to have that feeling of unity within. They’re all on an equal playing field to learn.

The whole [reason] why they write their name on the front of the hats is because there's a lot of them. So it helps us to quickly identify [them] and get names and faces together. But also, they're building these friendships with each other, so it helps them as well [when] they're trying to make that connection.

Q: What is one of the most important things when running a class like this?

In order to do this, you cannot do it alone. You have got to have your team of chefs. We've got some exceptional chefs out there, but I haven't pulled them into teaching the class because their personality is not … going to benefit the class as fully as the next chef. So you definitely have to have a strong base of chefs working with you, and you have [to have] a lot of communication. They have to know what my expectation is of the class for them to come and do it.

Q: What are some ways you engage the chefs teaching the class?

A lot of [the class] is recipe-based, but I also make sure I pick up some new fun [ingredients] that are out there in the market so that they can play with stuff, too. It's important to me that they are developing. It makes it better for them and the students, because the more engaged they are, the more they're going to want to teach.

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