Another Way of School Dining

— by Catherine Wuenschel, AIM Academy executive chef

Thanks to the Vetri Foundation‘s program, our school’s dinning room is no longer a cafeteria. Our new philosophy is to prepare family-style rustic food with good ingredients. Family-style seating, in which teachers and students eat together, has helped encourage a willingness to taste and discover new foods. Conversations around the table encourage manners, tasting, and engagement with both classmates and teachers.  

More after the jump.
Some of the different foods that are prepared have been requested by the students. Some examples are soba noodle salad, quinoa, tuna Nicoise, coconut-lemongrass fish, fresh rhubarb, and Jerusalem artichokes. Shellfish and pork do not enter the kitchen, out of respect for the students who do not eat them as part of their religious observance.  

A typical meal is as simple as chicken cacciatore with a green salad and a roasted parsnip dressing. Desserts mostly consist of fresh fruits that are both seasonal and globally available. These fruits are mostly baked into rustic dishes such as fruit cobblers and fruit crisps. This is in keeping with the guideline of more fruits and less sugary choices. No matter what is prepared, the cooks always remain married to the idea of using few, fresh ingredients and never using anything already processed.

My cooking comes from a depth of experiences, both internationally and throughout the country. Having grown up with the school lunch program in New England, I knew just how differently I wanted to make food for students. I was fortunate to learn even more when an opportunity to spend a year in Paris presented itself. I try to share my passion for fresh, good tasting, healthy foods through my menu designs and willingness to respond to student requests. For next year I plan to help create a curriculum-based program with student hands-on participation in making the food.