Austin’s Food Revolution

This is AMAZING.

From Austin360 (published back in April 2010):

Carrillo-Spano says that Austin schools have been working for more than 20 years to improve the quality of food while still meeting federal nutritional standards and staying on budget.

One of the biggest changes happened five years ago when the head of food services hired Steven Burke, an Austin Community College culinary graduate who would become the district’s first chef.

The clean-shaven Burke, 31, with his tightly cropped black curls and eager grin, could be mistaken for one of Austin High’s students if it weren’t for the white chef’s coat and pants decorated with red, yellow and green peppers he wore while he gave a tour of the school’s kitchen last week.

“I didn’t know anything about this kind of cooking,” says Burke, who worked with catering companies and at Green Pastures restaurant before Austin High.

But in five years, he seems to have mastered a balancing act that every school district faces: how to make the best food possible, with limited funds available, that kids will eat and that meets strict nutritional requirements set by the government.

Burke trains staff at schools of every level throughout the district, works with students in focus groups and develops new recipes for the high school that eventually trickle down to middle and elementary schools. “We’re not the Four Seasons, but we’re not that bad,” he says, as he walks past trays of food that look nothing like the mushy, indistinguishable dishes most people associate with school cafeterias. Burke, one of just a handful of district chefs in the state, often travels to other school districts to explain how he’s been able to work with the food services department to improve the cafeteria environment.


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