In May 2023, the Urban School Food Alliance convened a one-of-a-kind group of school food leaders at The Culinary Institute of America’s Texas Campus in San Antonio. During the weeklong event, Alliance members participated in sessions led by top culinary trainers, on topics ranging from cooking techniques to recipe development and child nutrition history.
In addition to the sessions led by event staff, the week was rich with best practice sharing and innovation among district staff. The group represented a diverse mix of school nutrition roles and responsibilities, including district chefs, dietitians, kitchen managers, and training staff. By leveraging their unique perspectives and expertise, attendees co-created solutions that not only produced healthy, delicious food for students, but also resulted in production and procurement strategies that center sustainability, equity, efficiency, and waste reduction.
We spoke with Chef Andrew Urbanetti, Assistant Director of Culinary Programs for Boston Public Schools, to hear about his experience at the inaugural event and the impact it has had on his job overseeing menu development and implementation for the district’s 125 schools. With degrees from Brandeis University, Le Cordon Bleu London, and The University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, Andrew has worked at numerous high-profile restaurants around the world as a Chef and Sustainability Consultant. Most recently the Executive Chef of Harvard Law School, Andrew is re-envisioning the tastes and flavors of Boston’s school menus to brings its students healthy, vibrant new options.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Being able to see the impact that we’re having on our city’s children each day. The ability to go into a school and see a student not only get a healthy meal, but also enjoy it, gives me profound joy.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Every day there’s something new. Working to create consistency and quality across so many varied locations will always be a challenge, but a welcome one at that.
How will your experience at the Culinary Institute of America impact the operations and training in your district? What changes have you implemented or explored?
The time at the CIA helped bring awareness to the potential that lies in the same nuances that also provide the challenges listed above. Collaboration from different areas of the department can help create a more constructive outcome. We’ve also begun exploring salad bars and entrée salads in a new way, and having exposure to methods that may be new to us but that have already proven effective in other districts, was an enormous help.
What was your biggest culinary takeaway?
The ability to cross-utilize and leverage fewer ingredients to produce a wider array of menu options.
How did collaboration with school nutrition professionals from other large districts at the training impact benefit your experience?
The impact is endless. I’m currently in touch with many of the attendees from the other districts, and the ability to share ideas, network, and be open to offering and receiving help is something that wouldn’t possible, were it not for that time for in-person interaction.
How do partnerships like this one drive innovation and new ideas among school nutrition professionals and programs?
Bringing like-minded individuals together for this style of learning is paramount to helping move the entire institution of school feeding forward. People that are passionate about what they do, and have new approaches and ideas, but with a common goal can only bring about a successful outcome.
Any other comments or thoughts about the experience?
For training such as this, I also saw an advantage to introducing professionals from school districts that aren’t necessarily culinarily-focused. Providing even a base training to team members from outside the culinary department not only provides them with some insight into what’s involved in the tactical production of school meals, but also allows the culinary teams to get a glimpse into what someone in non-culinary roles sees.
Watch our recap video to learn more about our partnership with The Culinary Institute of America and hear from attendees of the inaugural event. Check back as we highlight more changemakers from these exciting partnerships in our member districts.