Most dads can’t swoop in like a culinary superhero to rescue kids from “brown lettuce and Styrofoam tomatoes” in the school cafeteria. But most dads aren’t the chef/owner of what Gourmet magazine called one of “America’s Best Farm-to-Table Restaurants.”
Chef Bill Telepan learned his craft in some of the world’s most renowned kitchens before opening his own acclaimed Manhattan restaurant, Telepan. Seasonal, greenmarket-inspired cooking is at the restaurant’s soul, so when Telepan learned about Wellness in the Schools–the mom-sparked nonprofit dedicated to bringing better food, nutrition and fitness to New York City public school kids–his involvement was as natural as asparagus in spring.
His influence has been striking. With Telepan on board as executive chef, and culinary school graduates working alongside the staff at 47 NYC public schools, the lunch menu for 25,000 kids has been re-imagined. What Telepan calls “the culture of food” in these schools has changed dramatically.
Cooking from scratch is at the heart of what he hopes children will bring home to their own kitchens. “Healthy bodies, healthy minds” is the slogan of Wellness in the Schools, but the chef is quick to offer his own: “Real kids, real food.” Though Telepan champions fresh, top-quality, often organic food in his restaurant, his expectations for the American home kitchen are utterly reasonable. “Start by eliminating processed foods. Even mac and cheese can be OK. Just make it from scratch with real cheese,” he says.
Although Wellness in the schools is NYC-grown, the organization has recently expanded beyond the city limits, with programs in Kentucky and Florida. First Lady Michelle Obama has acknowledged the group as an inspirational force in her Chefs Move to Schools initiative, and Telepan credits the Obama administration for creating greater opportunities for kids to learn about good food and nutrition.
Below you will find one of Bill’s favorite dishes for kids, Fish Tacos with Black Bean Salad.
Story by Laraine Perri, a food writer in New York City.