Michelle Obama's Chefs Move to Schools Program, Plus an Interview With Bill Telepan

Adriana Velez

chefs move to schools

bill telepanThere's a new take on Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, and it could bring your favorite restaurant chef to your kids' school. Chefs Move to Schools is a brand-new program that will connect local chefs with schools to help develop nutritious and delicious recipes. Chefs and schools alike can apply, so if your family has a favorite neighborhood restaurant, you may want to tell the chef about Chefs Move and encourage him or her to sign up.

The program borrows a few ideas from several similar programs around the country, including New York City's Wellness in the Schools, founded by three parents and educators in 2005. Chef Bill Telepan, owner of Telepan Restaurant in Manhattan, has been a board member of Wellness in the Schools since 2008 and is now helping to plan Chefs Move to Schools.

We asked Chef Telepan to tell us a little bit about this new program and how he got involved.

What are the ultimate goals for this project?

The ultimate goal is serving healthier food in the schools, and less processed food. We'd like to develop hundreds of recipes that people can design menus from and cook from scratch. And there's a few ways we could do cooking from scratch. Maybe there's a processor out there who could peel and slice potatoes so schools can make real mashed potatoes instead of from potato flakes.

I believe that giving kids one choice a day that is healthy instead of many choices that aren't necessarily healthy could bring down the cost. I see a lot of wasted food.

Chefs cook with real food, we're creative, we have to have a business sense. You need a coalition of different kinds of people to make change, and we all have different ideas and we need to bring that together to make that happen.

So having a salad bar and making it part of the cafeteria, moving out the processed foods, and making the meals more thoughtful, these are the ultimate goals. This is what we've been doing here in the schools we're cooking in [via Wellness in the Schools]. 

I understand you helped plan this program. Could you tell us how you got involved?

Wellness in the Schools has been working side by side with New York City's Office of School Food in eight schools creating recipes from scratch. In October I was part of a coalition of groups from across the nation that included school food service personnel, chefs, people from Slow Food and Edible Schoolyard. We had a brainstorming session over how we could attack the obesity epidemic. Then Share Our Strength organized a meeting in March with White House chef Sam Kass and the USDA to put together an online toolkit [yet to be released] for chefs who want to get involved and get connected with schools.

The toolkit will include things that chefs can do to help change the food at the schools: protocol for working with staff, what foods you can or can't bring into schools, first steps. Every school is individual and there are so many factors for each school, like how the staff reacts, how they respond to having a chef in their kitchen. So the idea is to run with the ideas that you put together from the toolkit depending on the circumstances at your school.

What's great about Chefs Move to Schools is that chefs have worked in many different situations -- they have that flexibility and experience and they cook with real food.

I have to ask -- what does your daughter like to eat for dinner?

Well, she's a good eater. With Wellness in the Schools, we've learned to be consistent so kids know what to expect. We do the same thing at home. She has salmon on Mondays, meatballs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays I take her out for dinner, and Thursdays she has some sort of pasta. Of course, if she could she would eat candy and ice cream only for every meal, but she eats all kinds of foods: broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, rice, and beans.

Check out Chefs Move to Schools to learn more and to sign up your school. And to learn more about Chef Telepan, visit Telepan Restaurant.


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