“Now, like at no time before, kids are getting involved in cooking and the secondary benefits are massive,” says Chef Jet Tila, above, flanked by Prince of Peace Christian School students Landon Hill, left, and Kaylee Thomas at his recent visit the school.
by Alicia Wanek
Famous for his appearances on Iron Chef America and as a judge on Food Network’s Chopped: Junior, Chef Jet Tila is an internationally acclaimed chef and restauranteur. He is sharing his passion to promote healthy eating and lifestyle choices through his partnership with Flik Independent School Dining, a company offering an innovative approach to dining at school, including at local Prince of Peace Christian School (POPCS) and Early Learning Center in Plano. The Flik philosophy of Eat. Learn. Live. resonates with Tila and his own mission to help instill a love for cooking and eating healthy in the next generation. “This encourages a relationship with real food,” he says.
Immediately upon walking into the school dining facility, it’s apparent that this is not the school lunchroom of our generation. What strikes you first is how colorful it is. The salad bar is filled with over a dozen options, infused water dispensers (cranberry orange and apple with mint) line the wall, posters highlight the month’s food (this month was spinach), and fresh fruit is available for all students to take back to class or keep for their after-school activity; all these features contribute to an atmosphere that’s friendly and bright.
The focus is for the kids to not only try new foods, but to experience new foods, not processed, frozen, or canned foods but fresh foods, along with new ways to eat them. Christopher Johns, Executive Chef, says “As long as you can introduce new foods to their palate early on, they are more likely to try new things later.” Davita Lester, Food Service Director adds, “Usually they like it when they try it.” On the day we were there, the options included Korean barbeque beef tacos with pickled radish and fresh cilantro, sweet chili tofu, Thai pineapple fried rice, and grilled broccolini. The superfood highlighted was dark chocolate, and earlier in the week there had been a chef demonstration, preparing the Latin-American dish mole using the dark chocolate with taste samplings for the students. Panini stations are available every day with meats smoked in-house, and though no traditional desserts are served, students can prepare their own parfait with vanilla yogurt, fresh fruit, and granola. And the school is doing it all for as little as $3.39 per student.
“Now, like at no time before, kids are getting involved in cooking,” Chef Jet says, “…and the secondary benefits are massive.” It’s not only the health benefits. Families are cooking together and eating together, and that has its own rewards. At the end of Tila’s cooking demonstration, over half the class raised their hand to indicate they want to open a restaurant when they grow up, indicating that this new approach to school lunch is making an impact. And watching a steady stream of high school boys ordering the tofu option with broccolini….that’s solid proof.