Square pizza, tater tots, greenish hot dogs, rubber chicken, dry burgers. For generations, these were the staple ingredients of school cafeterias. It’s time to forget everything you think you know about high school lunches.
"Fresh vegetables, fresh herbs, fresh spices, this is what we’re doing every day now," said Rudolph Poindexter. "We’re going away from fried food."
Blasphemy! OK, but in a very tasty way. The Broward County School District brought in Chef Rudy, an alumnus from the Food Network show, "Chopped," to freshen up the high school lunch experience. He’s not taking the assignment lightly.
"At some of our schools, these are the only meals that these kids get, so these need to be really good meals, we need to make sure they’re nutritious and the food is good," Poindexter said.
We watched Chef Rudy steam up the cafeteria at Everglades High School in Miramar with a huge batch of jambalaya. He makes it with chicken, Andouille sausage, peppers, onions, and Cajun spices. Served over brown rice, it smells luscious and tastes like something you’d get in New Orleans.
The Chef is going to every high school in Broward, teaching the cafeteria ladies how to make his creations fresh from scratch. He started the process last spring, coming up with new dishes and using students to taste-test them. Now it’s time for the rollout of all the new menu items.
"You’re looking at four different salads that we have, one that I’m really proud about is our vegan salad, we have a vegan option that we offer every day for our students, an Asian kale salad, and a hummus and roasted vegetable wrap," said Poindexter.
Chef Rudy is also making sure he spices his creations to appeal to the various cultures represented at Broward’s schools. For instance, the hummus wrap is made three different ways.
"We have a jerk seasoning for one, we have a cumin seasoning for another one, and then we have a curry seasoning so we tried to hit all the different ethnic backgrounds," Poindexter explained.
So how did the jambalaya go over with the lunch crowd?
"This is amazing, I really like the jambalaya that they brought," said student Ayanna Stark. "Definitely an upgrade."
Her classmate agreed, as he ate his third helping.
"It’s definitely an upgrade, you know, the other stuff wasn’t as good as this,” said Lamar Spencer. "I like the spicy kick."
Sizzling feedback like that is music to Chef Rudy’s ears. He knows teenagers can be ultra-harsh critics.
"These judges here are a lot tougher than the judges on 'Chopped,' that’s for sure!” said Poindexter.
Some of the old staples, like pizza, aren’t going away. It’s all about quality and variety to keep the students satisfied.
"Food fuels the mind, it fuels the brain, I think all of those things in part produces really good students, everything happens around food,” Poindexter said.
All the more reason, he says, to make every meal worthwhile.