When is a vegetable not really a vegetable? When it is transformed by a talented chef into turtles, flowers, butterflies, swans and even a freight train full of fruit and veggie cargo. Students at Beecher Road School were treated to a spectacular display of food art when Chef Mark Desiderio from A. J. Letizio visited the school to show children the fun side of healthy foods. The event was facilitated by Lynn Pellegrini, the Director of K-12 school sales for A.J. Letizio and was part of the Superintendent’s Cafeteria Task Force initiative to expose students to healthier foods, integrate new healthy foods into school menus, and provide nutrition education on healthy lifestyle habits.
The chef began work early in the morning creating a swan from a honeydew melon, with curving neck surrounding a colorful assortment of cut fruit. Next came a mother turtle from a round watermelon and two baby Granny Smith green apple turtles—all nestled in a foodscape of romaine, chard and frilled leek “trees”. Chef Mark then tried his hand at a new item he had recently seen: a train made from a long English cucumber. Slowly but surely a locomotive, then a caboose, and boxcars emerged. Round carrot slices became wheels, and the cars were loaded with carrot stick “logs”, melon balls and sliced yellow squash freight. When placed into a scene of cucumber chunk tree trunks with rosemary sprig branches, all that was missing was the train whistle sound. It was the perfect visual kick-off for the February nutrition display theme of “Get On Board the Healthy Heart Express” which uses National Heart Month as its focus.
During the five lunch waves at the school, students viewed the carvings close up as they made their way through the serving line. In the dining area, Chef Mark was busy at a demonstration station creating mini carvings of flowers, more turtles and characters, all out of fresh fruits and vegetables. Student interest was noticeably high as they crowded around the station to watch the transformation of ordinary foods into extraordinary creations.
In addition to the food art event today, the Task Force initiatives have included monthly tastings of healthy side dishes so students can experience new foods in a fun and non-threatening way. These new foods are then added to the menu rotations as part of the recipe collection. Recipes are posted on the district website so children can go home and prepare the tasting items with their families. Tasting foods have included roasted squash boats, quinoa salad and a super food veggie slaw. Today’s event showed children that healthy foods can also be fun foods. Greens, squashes, root vegetables, melons, and herbs became entertaining objects that were even more entertaining because they watched the transformation. The measure of success for the event was made clear as student after student requested to taste the individual food carvings, even the ones made out of vegetables. Hopefully, some budding chefs were encouraged to pursue their interest and all students were convinced that eating healthy fruits and vegetables can be a fun thing. And of course, a healthy thing too.