Chef Bill Telepan was trained at the Culinary Institute of America and is currently the head chef at Telepan Restaurant in New York City. He has now teamed up with the Wellness in the Schools (WITS) program and founder Nancy Easton to bring healthy food to New York public schools. Because many public schools are underfunded, students are often fed processed, reheated lunches that lack in nutrition. Seeing this deep need, Chef Telepan through WITS has trained school cooks, developed healthy alternative menus for students, and developed recipes for students to make at home with their parents. In pursuing student wellness with WITS, Chef Telepan has used his culinary talents to share his love of good food with thousands of students.
Food Tank: What initially inspired you to be involved with the food served in the school system?
Bill Telepan: I have always been interested in doing something to make a difference. I have one skill set – I am a chef. When I met WITS founder, Nancy Easton at my daughter’s school (PS 87), I thought the work was amazing and knew that I could help. Their work was the perfect platform for my skill.
FT: How have you seen change happen through the WITS program?
BT: Our work has really coincided with a National movement which has propelled the WITS agenda. In all the WITS schools, children are eating an “Alternative Menu” that is minimally processed, more scratch cooked, etc. All the WITS schools have bountiful salad bars, water jets, the list goes on. All kids are learning basic skills of cooking healthy recipes. Parents are learning to cook. Culture is shifting in the WITS schools – publishing parties are healthier, PTA meetings and school events now have healthier food. We work in schools year after year and are really making an impact.
FT: In what ways have you been able to bring your culinary skills into the WITS program?
BT: I developed the training program with Nancy – knowing what skills are important for the school lunch cooks to develop in order to implement the Alternative Menu. I help the WITS team develop recipes for the cooking classes. In the beginning, I re-worked all the school lunch recipes to create scratch cooked meals to be made in the “least common denominator” kitchen – which means for a lot of schools, one convection oven and one stove top. I continue to work with the WITS team – primarily on recipe development and growth.
FT: What is your vision for food served in schools in the future and for the WITS program?
BT: WITS is primed for replication around the country. All children deserve to have a healthy meal at lunch. It is a privilege, it is a right. The ultimate goal is honestly to make WITS obsolete – that schools are healthy without our intervention. We have seen great change across this country, but we also have a long way to go.
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