More food prep means more food safety basics; lunch ladies going gourmet

I was always more of a brown-bagger when it came to lunch. The high school cafeteria food was gross – although I did have a penchant for their ham and cheese melts on some sort of white wallpaper bun – but cost was the primary factor. Why would anyone pay for stuff that could be made at home for nothing when parental-types bought the food.

That was in Canada. The U.S. school lunch program is a little different.

And now the lunch ladies are developing their culinary skills to go along with the demand for so-called healthier foods.

Dawn Cordova, a longtime school cafeteria worker attending Denver Public Schools’ first "scratch cooking" training this summer, told Associated Press,

"It’s more work to cook from scratch, no doubt."

Cordova and about 40 other Denver lunch ladies spent three weeks mastering knife skills, baking and chopping fruits and vegetables for some of the school district’s first salad bars.

Denver is among countless school systems in at least 24 states working to revive proper cooking techniques in its food service staff.

The city issued its 600 or so cafeteria employees white chefs’ coats and hats and plans to have all its kitchen staff trained in basic knife skills within three years.

Well-known area chefs visit for primers on food safety, chopping technique and making healthy food more appetizing to young diners (hint: kids prefer veggies cut into funky shapes, not boring carrot sticks).

Chefs say that schools embraced processed food so completely that many newer cafeterias lack the basics of a production kitchen, such as produce sinks, oven hoods or enough cold storage to keep meat and produce fresh.

No mention of microbial food safety, but with all the extra kitchen prep, the risk potential increases, especially with cross-contamination. Here’s hoping they master the basics unlike the TV cooks who routinely serve up microbiological disasters.

A Welsh pub or The Fat Duck or the Harvard Faculty Club – norovirus doesn’t care

The occasional appearances by the maniacal Sideshow Bob on television’s, The Simpsons, are among the best of the long-running series.

As noted on one blog, many writers for The Simpsons are Harvard alums. This group of writers takes many opportunities to mock their favorite rivals, Princeton and Yale, and occasionally themselves. Some examples:

-During the Sideshow Bob and Cecil episode, Bob and Cecil have and argument, during which Bob points out Cecil’s "four years in clown college", to which he replies, "I would prefer it if you not refer to Princeton in that manner"

-At the end of one of the Sideshow Bob episodes, Bob is returned to his minimum-security prison, where a boatful of rowers calls out to him to help row against "the alums from Princeton", causing him to say "[shudder], Princeton", and hop in.

Making fun of any uppity place came to mind when I read yesterday the Harvard Faculty Club had been closed earlier in the week after a possible norovirus outbreak.

Crista Martin, a spokeswoman for the school’s hospitality and dining services,
said several guests first reported feeling ill on Saturday, and that a response team along with the Cambridge Department of Public Health, on Tuesday believed that a person or persons with the virus passed it on to people at the club.

Louise Rice, director of public health nursing for the city of Cambridge, said more than 10 people became ill after eating at the Faculty Club. But, she added, officials have not yet determined whether they were infected with a norovirus.

Jennifer Manley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health, said the school and the Cambridge Public Health Department are investigating a possible norovirus contamination at the club.

Simpsons, safety, aquavit, Ben and barf

Television’s The Simpson’s on Sunday began with a nice riff about foodborne illness loosely based on the Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella-fest, then quickly moved on to immigration and shared cultural values.

There was lots of aquavit.

I was first exposed to aquavit as a 16-year-old when I spent my first of five summers as a carpenter’s helper for two Danish homebuilders in Brantford, Ontario. I learned how to hammer nails efficiently using my 20-ounce Estwing, and I learned the Danish custom of drinking Aalborg aquavit – Danish schnapps, 45 per cent alcohol, I prefer the dill, above, right, over the caraway flavor – while eating pickled herring, and liver pate and beet open-face sandwiches.

Homer says, Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Amy and I still indulge occasionally, especially during losing Kansas State football games.

Ben Chapman first started working in my lab in the summer of 2000. I didn’t know he existed until I invited him and the other lab-types over to the house in September. I brought out the Danish schnapps, and Chapman, eager to make an impression, decided to go drink-for-drink with me. About an hour later, he vomited in my ex’s rose bush.

But, no shame. Homer got hammered by the Norwegians and their aquavit (see the second video below, reminds me of Ben), my friend John Kierkegaard, one of the Danish builders, could drink me under the table.