News From the Kitchen
Our School Nutrition Program staff has worked hard all fall to start the school year off right, preparing thousands of healthy meals every day for local schoolchildren. Co-Production Managers Susan and Brandon joined our LK family in August and are a true Dream Team, bringing to the table skills in talent development, production, and communications, as well as an endless passion for SNP! We sat down with them to learn more.
Tell us about yourselves.
Susan: I am from El Salvador, a beautiful country I love and hold dear, but it has a lot of social and safety issues. Because of those issues I came to the United States in 2005 to follow my dream to better my range of opportunities and life choices. In the process of following that dream, my daughter is benefitting immensely from these new opportunities that I only dreamt of her having. I have worked in the restaurant industry since 2006 and have since transferred my kitchen abilities into the world of management and training. I believe that my culinary and managerial skills can be used as a tool for social change.
Brandon: I am originally from New Orleans and have traveled in different cities such as San Francisco, Atlanta and New York. I went to culinary school at the Art Institute of NYC. I connect fully with the mission of helping others which is the focal point of Liberty’s Kitchen.
What is SNP?
Susan: The School Nutrition Program is a branch of Liberty’s Kitchen that touches the lives of more than 1,500 kids and their families on a daily basis by nurturing them and fulfilling their need for a healthy, balanced diet. We believe good nutrition will facilitate kids’ success in academic performance as well as outside of school. One of our main objectives is to feed them with three to four meals on a daily basis with as much food made from scratch as we can, using local fresh products while following USDA guidelines. We aim to create menus that are both delicious and nutritious.
We hope to touch the lives of these kids not only through providing a balanced diet but also by being part of an integral education that will lead them to make better meal choices outside of school. To fulfill this goal, we are starting to work hand in hand with New Orleans College Prep to create and implement educational programs like: farm to school, composting, and school gardening whereby both Liberty’s Kitchen and the schools can educate kids on the importance of each project.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Susan: My favorite part is providing our team members with the right tools for success and seeing how the tools I’m giving them helps them work towards positive changes in their lives.
Brandon: I love feeding the children and menu development.
Where do you want SNP to be one year from now?
Susan: We know SNP will continue being a source of empowerment, betterment, and a tool for social justice and nourishment for our community. We are working to grow and give more people a chance to join this project. I see SNP making more job creation, education, and training opportunities possible. Just as importantly, it will keep bettering the lives of children through providing the nutrition they deserve and that they will receive through our special menus and educational activities.
Brandon: Agreed. It’s our goal to expand our program to other schools using the systems we have implemented.
Anything else to include?
Susan: Just a little quote: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” –Gandhi
Every day, our School Nutrition Program staff is hard at work preparing thousands of healthy and tasty meals for local schoolchildren! We sat down with Head Chef Robert Soper (who’s cooked for celebrities like Johnny Cash and Harrison Ford!) to hear about the highlights and snag his delicious gumbo recipe.
Tell us about yourself!
My name is Robert G. Soper. I was born in NYC and raised in New Jersey. As a young child I became interested in cooking and started cooking at an early age. I got my first job in a restaurant at age 15 as a dishwasher. I worked my
way up through the ranks. I have worked in all types of restaurants from diners to fine dining. I have been a baker, cake decorator, production chef, corporate trainer, sous chef and then executive chef. I love cooking and the satisfaction of cooking for people.
What do you like about being Head Chef?
I like teaching people stuff they don’t know, culinary things. And I like seeing the kids enjoy the food.
What is your hope for the students whom you serve?
That they like it and that they try new things. Because as a child, I never tried new things, and I missed out on a lot.
What is your all-time favorite food?
Lasagna. Homemade. When I was a kid, my best friend’s grandmother would make these huge tables of food. She didn’t even speak English, all she did was cook, and she got so mad if you didn’t eat it. Man, she cooked the best stuff.
Any advice for your readers?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. I wasted a lot of time being afraid to try new stuff. You never know if you’ll like something until you try it!
Check out Chef Rob’s recipe below to whip up some tasty gumbo!
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) Butter
3 tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons Flour
2 pounds Yellow Onions (diced)
1 pound Green Bell Peppers (diced)
1 pound Celery (diced)
1/3 cup Chopped Garlic
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp White Pepper
¾ tsp Dry Thyme
1/3 cup Cajun Seasoning
1.5 gallons Water
½ cup (4 ounces) Chicken base
3-14.5 ounce cans Diced Tomato
2 pounds Sliced Andouille Sausage
4 pounds Chicken (cooked or raw), chopped
1 ½ tablespoon Tabasco
1/3 cup + 1 tbs Worcestershire Sauce
- Read recipe completely. Do not take shortcuts – think QUALITY.
- In a large pot over heat, melt butter and add olive oil.
- Once hot, whisk in flour to make a deep amber colored roux.
- Add onion, celery, peppers, garlic and dry spices, and caramelize well.
- Whisk in Chicken base and water, add diced tomato. Simmer 45 min.
- Add sausage, chicken, Tabasco, and Worcestershire. Simmer 45 min. If using raw chicken, make sure it is cooked through!
- Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve over rice.
Yield – about 2 gallons
Nutrition Facts (per 1 cup serving without rice): Calories 207, Total Fat 11g, Carbohydrate 7g, Fiber 1g, Protein 20g, Sodium 616mg, Potassium 461mg
We want to ensure that the students get the maximum nutritional value by eating all of the food on their plates, so we administered taste tests with the fifth grade student government members at Sylvanie Williams College Prep to discover the most popular items. We had 15 different healthy options to taste, and the students sampled and ranked each item. We’ve also hung posters that promote healthy eating in the cafeterias. I am currently working on a whiteboard that will share the menu with students and staff each day and show how each part of the meal has nutritional value. We hope to show the students that they have the power to make healthy decisions!