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‘Chef Ben’ comes to Northwestern |

‘Chef Ben’ comes to Northwestern

WEST SALEM — And the survey says … vegetables can be palatable to elementary school students.


In a taste testing exercise, 65 percent of fourth-grade students at Northwestern Elementary School gave “sweet potato mash” a thumbs-up, while nearly 87 percent awarded stir-fried broccoli a positive review and said they would eat it again, as reported by Karen Potter, founder of A Whole Community, which raised the bar for the farm to school concept by bringing a chef to school for tips on taking advantage of a bountiful harvest.

“Chef Ben” — Ben Callender, Potter’s son — recently took over the kitchen at Northwestern Elementary School and stirred up fresh vegetables and an enthusiastic response from the food services staff, to whom Callender also gave a tip sheet about preparing the fresh produce provided to the Northwestern district in A Whole Community’s pilot program.

Callender, an executive chef at BRIO Tucsan Grille in Columbus, shared recipes and his own story about moving from eating highly processed food to healthier choices.

“It has really personally changed my life,” said Callender, citing one of the benefits as dramatic weight loss.

“It used to be that what your mother cooked is what you got,” he told Northwestern staff, but “now the ball is in your court” to offer students an opportunity for nutritional guidance. Good habits are catching on because of the enthusiasm of food service employees, according to Callender.

The vegetables of the day were broccoli, sweet potatoes and zucchini.

Callender provided tips on cooking them, such as not getting the oil too hot “or it will make everything you make taste bitter,” and fielded questions about seasoning, for example, blanching broccoli, asparagus, green beans and cauliflower and then roasting, sauteing, grilling or baking them with different seasonings.

Sweet potatoes are a “wonderful root vegetable to work with; you can roast them in the oven until they are tender, peel and mix with salt, cinnamon and a little butter for some delicious mashed potatoes.”

Blanched broccoli may be sauted “in a little oil and seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder;” and green beens may be “drizzled” with a small amount of balsamic vinegar and bacon, he said.

After heating some sliced zucchini, Callender suggested adding roasted carrots, broccoli and red peppers “for vibrant color.”

“We needed some inspiration,” said Wendi Mole, Northwestern food services, who previously said the department has been eagerly looking for recipes from their own file box, magazines and other sources to enhance cooking and serving vegetables in the school’s lunch program.

“It has been an inspiration for me to help the next generation especially have good nutrition,” Callender said.

Students asked for seconds and thirds of the broccoli, Potter said, and one student asked Callender, “How did you do this? It tastes so good.”

Another advantage of Callender’s visit was a gift to the school from A Whole Community of two 14″ skillets and a wire basket so that Northwestern’s cooks could “continue the cooking techniques demonstrated by Chef Ben,” Potter said.

A Whole Community and the Wayne County Health Department through the Maternal and Child Health Program sponsored the Chef to School event, she said, adding “Callender has done several cooking demos on Fox TV in Arizona and in Ohio.”

Reporter Linda Hall can be reached at lhall@the-daily-record.com or 330-264-1125, Ext. 2230. She is @lindahallTDR on Twitter.

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