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Chefs Move to Central Texas Schools

Smithson Valley High School culinary arts students Rachel Roff, left, and Emily Richardson, right, learn new cooking techniques from Chef Ralph Garcia.

Smithson Valley High School culinary arts students Rachel Roff, left, and Emily Richardson, right, learn new cooking techniques from Chef Ralph Garcia.

Chefs across the country are getting involved in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Chefs Move to Schools program. Culinary whizzes nationwide are working with teachers, parents and administrators to show students that nutrition is not only imperative for their development, but can be fun and exciting, too.

One such example is Chef Ralph Garcia. Chef Garcia has hit the ground running, providing training to Chartwells Compass Group, a food service provider to schools in Texas. I recently spoke with Dianna Tidwell, director of dining services at Comal ISD in central Texas, about the Chefs Move to Schools program. She explained how schools in her district are benefiting from the services provided by Chef Ralph Garcia, and highlighted the ways in which Garcia has made creating healthy meals fun and accessible to students.

Chef Garcia recently spent time with students at Smithson Valley High School in Spring Branch, Texas as part of the Chefs Move to Schools program. When he first met the students, they excitedly inquired if he was a real chef. Hoping to get the kids excited about the food they eat and what he does as a chef, Garcia explained that he got his start by taking a cooking class as a freshman in high school – just around the same age as them!

Over the years, Chef Garcia has honed his skills by teaching culinary students a variety of cooking techniques. He has passed on to the next generation of culinary experts his kitchen maneuvers, ranging from julienne-cut vegetables, to making the perfect stir-fry of fresh, healthy vegetables.. Chef Garcia is teaching them not only the importance of integrating healthy ingredients into their diet, but also how to get involved with their communities by engaging with local schools.

“I’m a hands-on person. When I work side-by-side with the kids, they love it,” said Garcia. Adam Alonso, a student at Smithson Valley High School, learned to stir-fry under the instruction of Chef Garcia. “It gives the students a new perspective about cooking and adds a creative context,” said Alonso. By getting kids engaged in their food, chefs across the country can help students understand what is on their plate, where their food comes from, and why eating healthy can make them not only better students, but also set them on a path to a healthy lifestyle.

In addition to teaching students, Chef Garcia will also be working with school food service staff to expand their expertise. “One of the main goals of our Chefs Move to Schools program is to teach our staff how to do presentation cooking right in front of the students as they pass through the lunch line,” said Tidwell.  Tidwell and her staff are very excited about the Chefs Move to Schools program and its hands-on approach to healthy, fresh foods. As evidenced by the students excitement, Chef Garcia is clearly making an impact, and his enthusiasm for the program will have him adding additional schools in no time so he can continue his work in support of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative.

Smithson Valley High School student Amy Baker demonstrates her newly learned stir-frying skills.

Smithson Valley High School student Amy Baker demonstrates her newly learned stir-frying skills.

Students in Wendy McCuiston’s culinary arts class at Smithson Valley High School pose with Chartwells Executive Chef Ralph Garcia. Left to right are: Claudia Hernandez, Adam Alonso, Carlo Antoniolli, Amy Baker, Shelby Myrick, Caitlin Spring. Garcia was on campus as part of the Chefs Move to Schools program.

Students in Wendy McCuiston’s culinary arts class at Smithson Valley High School pose with Chartwells Executive Chef Ralph Garcia. Left to right are: Claudia Hernandez, Adam Alonso, Carlo Antoniolli, Amy Baker, Shelby Myrick, Caitlin Spring. Garcia was on campus as part of the Chefs Move to Schools program.

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