the know-it-all

Why Are There Dough Mixers in School Cafeterias?

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

Why Are There Dough Mixers in School Cafeterias?