When the Post broke news this week of 111 city school cafeterias failing their health inspections due to infestation, one detail really stood out as repulsive: In the Bronx, a dead roach was found in a cafeteria’s dough mixer. That’s really gross, of course. But it also made us wonder: Public-school kids get fresh-baked bread? In fact, do public-school kids get any homemade — as opposed to premade, conglomerate-provided — meals? And does that mean there are actually real chefs working in those kitchens?
The Department of Education reports that, no, there’s no homemade bread. But what they call “scratch-cooked meals” — that’s actual, real, prepared-on-location stuff like beef tacos, for example, or eggplant parmigiana — are a reality in New York City schools. The Ed Department saves the good stuff for middle- and upper-school chowhounds, who administrators have determined have “more adventuresome palates.” Younger kids get the prepackaged, heat-and-serve stuff, with the meals coming from outside vendors who can hurdle the department’s nutrition specs while still meeting its price point.
Each school has a “school lunch cook,” who is aided by “assistant cooks” and “school lunch helpers.” They are not chefs, but they’re trained by the Culinary Concepts Department, which is a branch of the Education Department’s larger School Food department. There’s a “regional chef” for each borough who reports to the system’s top-dog “executive chef,” who makes all final menu decisions. But no new items are added until it has passed a formal taste test by a team of students with especially adventuresome palates.
We can’t imagine, however, those palates are adventuresome enough to enjoy roach.
— Hope Reeves