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Hail to the Chef: Celebrity chef helps EPISD cafeterias craft menu for upcoming National School Lunch Week

Chef Valdes at EPISD  Chef Valdes at EPISD

Chef Valdes at EPISD  Chef Valdes at EPISD

Chef Valdes at EPISD  Chef Valdes at EPISD

(EL PASO INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT -- Oct. 9, 2019) — EPISD cafeteria managers spent the morning learning and sampling recipes from El Paso Inc. Chef of the Year Rudy Valdes to share with their students next week during National School Lunch Week. 

The head chef at Pan y Agua Restaurant Group was surrounded by eager EPISD food service staff who watched the celebrity chef whip up some simple-yet tasty fare made with home-grown fresh fruits and veggies inside the Ross Middle School kitchen.

"It was very exciting for our Food and Nutrition Services supervisors, quality control managers, and cafeteria management staff to attend a demonstration where a local professional celebrity chef showed them preparation techniques for his original recipes,” said Judy Estrada, the assistant director of food services.  

Those fresh selections include yogurt with pomegranate arils, fresh peppers paired with dipping sauce, watermelon and basil aguas frescas and baked cinnamon apples.

The fresh produce came from nearby New Mexico farms while Anita’s Pomegranates supplied their fruit.

“Our students are really interested in sustainability and so by promoting the fact that we're trying to use local farm produce that's right here, we're supporting our local economy and also promoting sustainability,” Estrada said. 

Valdes, whose four children attend Bond Elementary, offered some tips and tricks for food preparation while chopping up the produce and getting it ready for sampling. 

“We’re all about any opportunity we have to introduce kids to local produce and eating things they wouldn’t normally eat,” Valdes said. “I’m excited that I got to participate today but come day-of, it’s the great people in the cafeterias and lunchrooms that are going to have to do it.”

He noted that his presentation offered samples for 20, crediting the managers for doing the much tougher task of providing for thousands of students.

“It’s an incredible group that is incredibly skilled in what they do and they have infinite knowledge but sometimes a little tweak is all it takes,” Valdes said.

“I’m extremely thankful for them for their willingness to put in the work to put this food in front of the kids.”

Magoffin Middle School cafeteria manager Monica Torres enjoyed Valdes’ presentation and sampling the sweet and savory snacks. She was particularly impressed by the yogurt with pomegranate.

“I always think we have to top the yogurt with granola but I was amazed at the taste,” she said. “I’m really thankful we had a celebrity chef giving us his time. It was nice of him. He wants to change healthy eating habits and he took his time to show us how to do it. I was like ‘wow.’”

Story by Gustavo Reveles
Photos by Leonel Monroy