Chef Bobo Takes On School Lunch

To continue Marc Murphy Week, we caught up with one of the chef's favorite kitchen professionals and educators—Chef Bobo of the Calhoun School. Murphy's two children attend the school, where he is a member of the Board of Trustees.

It is a rare thing to find a school lunch that isn't comprised of congealed pasta and bags of chips, but Chef Bobo (aka Robert Surles) of New York City's The Calhoun School is transforming a culinary dead zone into a restaurant-quality lunch service.

Food was not always his calling, however. It wasn't until after retiring from a job at Air France that Bobo became serious about food, specifically the American food system.

After leaving the French Culinary Institute, where he later became an instructor, Bobo set his sights on revitalizing the ailing school lunch program—starting with Calhoun, a private school on the Upper West Side. With a team of trained chefs, Bobo serves nutritious meals made from scratch every morning. He then blogs about the day's menu, which is circulated to all of the students in the morning.

We spoke with Chef Bobo (that name!) about his methods for getting students involved in nutrition, the positive response from parents, and his ability to make these gourmet meals cost effective.

What is the best way to get children interested in nutrition?

The food has to be delicious. Our lunches focus on bold flavors, colorful choices and dialogue between the kids and the chefs who prepare the food. We have a green roof garden, where they can actually see where food comes from and taste it in its natural setting.

How are you able to make healthy lunches also an affordable option for both the students and the school?

Keeping costs down is a constant challenge. Our control of costs is accomplished through portion control and recycling of leftover food into soups and composed salads for our salad bars. We also try to be seasonal since we get better prices on foods that are in season. One example is we have changed our morning orange juice from small individual cartons to bulk fresh orange juice served in pitchers.

What has the response from parents been like?

Parents have been so gracious. They get excited that their kids are trying new and healthier foods. At one dinner for parents of graduating seniors, the parents thanked me for what I've done for their kids and also for what my lunch program has done for them!

How have you collaborated with chef and Calhoun parent Marc Murphy?

Marc Murphy has been a great supporter of our program. It helps that he is a chef and truly understands our challenges. He is helping us get better prices from our purveyors.

How do you attribute a healthy diet to success in the classroom?

A kid needs a healthy meal to be alert and ready to learn in the afternoon. If a lunch is full of carbohydrates and sugars, kids become lethargic. By eating a well-balanced, healthy meal, kids are alert and have energy to learn. This information comes to me from teachers who have seen the difference in how their students respond in the afternoon.

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