Meet the Culinary Experts who bring their expertise to Texas school meals and innovatively encourage healthy eating habits
Chef Kelly Waldron, Region 13 Education Service Center
Chef Kelly Brings International Flavors to School Meals
Kelly Waldron is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and Indiana University, Bloomington Indiana. Before moving to Austin, she honed her culinary skills while working in restaurants and catering in New York City and Japan. She is passionate about getting kids to love their vegetables and bringing flavors from around the world to a cafeteria near you!
Q: What is your role as an Education Service Center (ESC) Chef?
Chef Kelly: I provide school districts with culinary skills training for kitchen staff, develop recipes and menus, conduct student taste-testing events, and develop training resources. I also work with teachers, students, and community members in after-school garden, cooking, and nutrition activities.
Contact Information: Kelly.Waldron@esc13.txed.net
Chef Brittany Jones, Houston ISD
Chef Brittany Engages Students with Demos, Sampling and Taste Tests
Growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, Chef Brittany Jones enjoyed being inventive with different ingredients. Her passion for creativity and food lead her to pursue a Hospitality Management degree at Howard University in Washington, DC. After matriculating through Howard in 2010, Chef Jones adventured to Miami, Florida to pursue a Culinary Degree from Johnson & Wales University. Chef Jones seized the working opportunity with Celebrity Chef Paula DaSilva at her premier restaurant 1500° where she remained for 3 years. In February 2014, Chef Jones relocated to Houston, Texas to become part of the Houston Independent School District Nutrition Department as a Chef Trainer. If she’s not instructing classes or visiting schools throughout the district, she and her husband love exploring their new city.
Q: How do you guarantee student satisfaction with menu item offerings?
Chef Brittany: One of the main roles of a Chef Trainer is to capture student feedback on current and future menu items. We create fun and festive taste testing environments for students to give their opinions of new and improved menu items. Before menu items are placed on the menu, we educate students on what they will be eating in culinary classes, nutrition education classes, at health fairs, etc. We offer demonstrations and samplings, as well as scale down recipes from the production facility into easy take-home recipe cards. We offer free breakfast to our entire district every day and one of our most popular breakfast items is our Sweet Potato Muffin (Sweet Potato Muffin take-home recipe card). Chef Trainers also visit the school kitchens to ensure team members are executing the recipes correctly.
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Chef Paula Szczepanek, Corpus Christi ISD
Chef Paula Introduces New Veggies to Engage Kids with Food & Nutrition
Paula Szczepanek has been with Corpus Christi ISD since 2013 and is responsible for 19 elementary, secondary and special campus cafeterias. Chef Paula also develops and tests recipes in close collaboration with the school nutritionist, as well as introduces new flavors through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Her goal is to encourage students to eat healthy delicious meals throughout their lifetimes, so that they may grow and thrive in their academic careers and beyond. Chef Paula earned her Bachelor of Culinary Management degree and became a chef at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. She owned and operated a successful restaurant in Baltimore for five years prior to joining CCISD’s Food Services Department.
Q: What is your favorite vegetable to cook, and why?
Chef Paula: I enjoy working with any vegetable. I think the elementary school students loved when I did a recipe demonstration with Romanesco because they thought it was really cool looking!
Contact Information: Paula.Szczepanek@ccisd.us
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Chef David Husbands, Houston ISD
Working Together: Chef David Partners with Dietitians, Shares Expertise with Other Chefs
Chef David is the Executive Catering Chef/Catering Director for HISD Nutrition Services and has been with HISD for almost 11 years. He brings 22 years of experience in the food business and 18 years of experience as a chef to the Nutrition Services department. He manages a satellite production kitchen that prepares and delivers between 10,000 to 20,000 reimbursable school meals and snacks daily for schools without kitchens. He is also part of the team that designs reimbursable school meals and is working more closely with dietitians to develop school nutrition program menus. Chef David would like to share what he knows about this business with other colleagues, as well as learn what he can from chef colleagues about what they do for their districts.
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Chef Helen Duran, Coppell ISD
From Carrots to Watermelons, Chef Helen Makes Fruits and Veggies Look and Taste Great!
Chef Helen brings a new approach to school lunch as the Culinary Trainer at Coppell ISD. The job encompasses all her passions and allows her to work with kids, work with food, plan events and classes, even work in the school gardens. And change the world. What could be better?
After Helen graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in British History she did what many overeducated and undertrained students do, she got a job in the food service industry. This is when she found her real calling. She is an admitted “Food Geek” and has been feeding people professionally for almost 40 years. She has been an executive chef, cheese expert, teacher, event planner, writer, training developer, gardener and locavore.
Q: What do you love most about being a chef?
Chef Helen: I have been cooking for almost 40 years: Five star restaurants, catering companies, grocery stores, and now, a school district. I love that I learn every day. Sometimes it is a process that I figure out and teach myself. Sometimes I meet someone who knows something that I don’t. Many years ago I was shopping at the Dallas Farmers Market and was in the wholesale shed where an old man had a truck full of watermelons. He wasn’t busy at the time so I stopped to talk. I asked him what to look for in a perfect watermelon. I haven’t had a bad one since then.
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Chef Hunter Oeffner, Mansfield ISD
Chef Hunter Tries Something New to Bring Nutrition Awareness to Mansfield ISD
Chef Hunter is the chef/culinary trainer for Mansfield ISD. A native of Fort Worth, he began his culinary career 30 years ago in a donut bakery and worked his way into a line cook position in the restaurants of the late Duff Massey, a famous restaurateur in Fort Worth. Eventually, he worked his way into a general manager and executive chef position. The last 15 years he has worked for a variety of restaurants as General Manager/Research and Development chef. He also runs a private catering business called Happy Samaritan Catering Company and helps in his wife Anita’s tamale business. Chef Hunter lives in Arlington and besides cooking, loves baseball (Go Rangers!), playing Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas and working on his house and yard. He and Anita have a wonderful Chihuahua named Fiona and spend their free time doing missionary work in Guatemala and Mexico.
Q: What is the most successful event you have put on with the students?
Chef Hunter: The most successful event with our students is “Chew Chew! I Tried Something New.” We started the program in our elementary and intermediate schools to introduce new foods to our students. This year every Chew Chew! I Tried Something New will introduce food that, at the end of next school year, will make a SUPER SMART SALAD. The program is an extension of our district’s rebranding which is train-themed called The Crossing.
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Chef Mario Perez, Comal ISD
Chef Mario Brings Culinary Skills and a Life of Service to Comal ISD
Chef Mario is Executive Chef III and provides in-depth support to a 27-kitchen operation in the areas of associate training and catering. Since coming to Comal ISD he has developed and launched an array of Menutainment programs such as Asian Nation, Via Milano, Viva Fiesta, Omelet Bar, Travellin’ Grill and Veggietainment, as well as a healthy Catering Program. Chef Mario Earned the COMPASS Group Outstanding Performance Award for 2014 and currently serves as Board Member for the St. Phillip’s College Culinary Training Program.
Chef Mario began his culinary skills work during high school with DECA – a vocational training program allowing him an opportunity to train with then Executive Chef Eugene Williams of Earl Abel’s in San Antonio. He joined the United States Air Force in 1974 after graduation, where he combined activities that called upon his skills in the kitchen to help with fundraisers, protocol and community events. After 24 years in the Air Force, he was drawn to non-profit work and became director of the Meals On Wheels Program in San Antonio before launching his own catering company, Class Act Catering.
Q: What are your staple ingredients and/or utensils in your kitchen?
Chef Mario: My sharp 8-inch chef’s knife, sharp serrated knife, fork, silver platter and knife sharpener. Ingredients: brown sugar, cumin, paprika, basil, granulated garlic, kosher salt, Italian seasoning and parsley. (By the way – this mix is fabulous on Grilled Hamburgers).
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Chef Brad Trudeau, Garland ISD
Chef Brad Moves Chefs to Schools
Chef Brad is the Director of Student Nutrition Services at Garland ISD. He also currently serves on the National Advisory Group for Chefs Move to Schools and, as such, has a wealth of ideas about how to build chef and school partnerships. Chefs can work with adopted schools to provide nutrition education through explanations of and demonstrations with various fruits and vegetables. This can be done in conjunction with the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Chefs can help present breakfast; staff would prepare pancakes, then the chef(s) could finish the dish with a creative fruit topping and serve children on the line. Guest chefs can create an additional fresh fruit or vegetable side dish at lunch and set up a debut demo table in the cafeteria, or serve it directly on the line. A chef may also address an assembly of students in the auditorium, followed by the school running a special dish in the cafeteria for lunch.
Q: What are some sources of chefs in the Garland area, and Texas-wide?
Chef Brad: Students from area culinary schools, since they often need to complete community service hours in order to graduate. In the Garland-area specifically, schools can reach out to El Centro College (Dallas County Community College), Art Institute of Dallas, Collin County Community College and Tarrant County Community College. Additional, Texas-wide sources include the Texas Restaurant Association, Texas Chefs Association and Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute.
Contact Information: BLTrudea@garlandisd.net
Chef Geraldlyn Etienne, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD
Chef Geraldlyn Shares Her Childhood Passion for Food and Nutrition With Students
Chef Geraldlyn is originally from Henderson Louisiana and has been cooking with her Grandmother, Anna, since she was a little girl. On the eve of major holidays she would spend the night at her grandmother’s home and always wake me up around 3 or 4 a.m. with the aroma of homemade southern foods and desserts for the entire family. Geraldlyn would assist her grandmother with cooking, stirring, mixing, seasoning and sometimes baking. After graduating from high school she attended and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Dallas in 2012. The following year she began to work for Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD where she loves working with and for the students.
Q: What is your favorite menu item to spice up?
Chef Geraldlyn: My favorite menu item to spice up would be the Chef Salad because it’s a way for me to eat/try different fruits and vegetables. If I like them in the salad then I try then in other dishes or even by themselves.
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Chef Lori Nelson, KIPP Austin
Chef Lori Keeps KIPP Kids Healthy
Chef Lori has been cooking professionally since she was sixteen years old and has worked as the Executive Chef of the Wyndham Hotel and Woodward Conference Center, in restaurant management and in large scale catering operations. Her creativity extends beyond the kitchen--she enjoys the fine arts and studied sculpture and oil painting at Shepherd University in West Virginia. After starting a family, she immediately became aware of how passionate she was about the importance of child nutrition and made the transition into school food service, as Executive Chef of KIPP Austin Public Schools in 2013.
Q: What is your favorite carrot recipe?
Chef Lori: My favorite carrot recipe would have to be one we’ve served here at KIPP. It’s a carrot salad comprised of shredded carrots, raisins, red onion and pineapple. It has a very light mayonnaise based dressing and is flavored with parsley and garlic.
Contact Information: LNelson@kippaustin.org
Chef Lindsey Schoenfeld, To Taste
Chef and Dietitian Lindsey Schoenfeld Combines Culinary Skills and Deep Nutrition Knowledge to Make Texas School Meals Tasty and Nutritious
Chef Lindsey is a school chef consultant. Lindsey has a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science from Texas A&M and she is a registered dietitian nutritionist. In an effort to expand her nutrition education with additional culinary arts training, she pursued a Certificate of Culinary Arts from the Culinary School of Fort Worth. She most recently served as director of student nutrition at Lovejoy Independent School District.
Over the past 10 years, Lindsey has devoted herself to her profession. Her career has provided her with the opportunity to educate families on health and wellness through menu planning and recipe development. She also spent time assisting with cooking demonstrations and classes at Sur la Table. She has been fortunate to study the kitchens and cuisine in California, South Carolina and Florence, Italy. Lindsey is a marathon runner, a proud mother of two, and a loving wife. She enjoys spending much of her time developing recipes for families with children and athletes.
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Chef Robert Johnson, Alice AISD
Chef Robert Gives Back to His Hometown
Chef Robert is the assistant food service director and district chef for Alice ISD. He is an Alice native. He earned a degree in Health & Kinesiology from Texas A&M-Kingsville, a Culinary Arts Degree from Le Cordon Bleu – Texas Culinary Academy and completed the Food Service Management Program at Cornell University. His past management experience ranges from the Game Creek Club in Vail to the Community Action Corporation of South Texas. His hobbies include hunting, fishing, golfing, cooking, wine tasting and spending time with his fiancé and their dog "Romo."
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Chef Eric Dromgoole, San Antonio ISD
Chef Eric Uses Herbs and Spices to keep School Meals Delicious and Healthy
Chef Eric spent three years as a 94 bravo ARMY COOK at Ft Riley Kansas. He has worked in the hotel, restaurant, and catering businesses and taught 9-12 grade Culinary Arts for 4 years at Sam Houston High School. He is a graduate of San Antonio ISD, where he currently works, and earned a bachelor’s degree in Applied Arts and Science from Texas State University. Chef Eric also has a Baking and Pastries Certificate from the California Culinary Academy and a certificate for Culinary Arts from the Center for Foods of the Americas (Culinary Institute of America)
Q: How do you keep your food creative and nutritious?
Chef Eric: We keep food creative by using fresh herbs and spice mixes in our recipes. Batch cooking is key for keeping our food hot and fresh. It also helps with cost control.
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Chef Marcus Lopez, Uvalde CISD
Chef Marcus Uses Color Contrast to Entice Kids to Eat Veggies
Q: What is your favorite Whole Grain recipe?
Chef Marcus: My favorite whole grain recipe is Whole Grain Pancakes with Blueberries and Flaxseed. The recipe name needs some work I'll admit, but this is my favorite recipe because my kids love to help in the kitchen, and this shows them that "Healthy food" can taste SUPER good! I love to do this recipe with my students as well as part of a cooking program.
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