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A chef gets creative with school lunch

Andrew Bernard serving chicken satay with rice and sauteed broccoli to Provincetown students.
Elspeth Hay
Andrew Bernard serving chicken satay with rice and sauteed broccoli to Provincetown students.

Andrew Bernard is the school food program manager for the Provincetown Public Schools.

"Today we have — its traditional, chicken satay with a sweet curry rice and a broccoli, sauteed broccoli with peanut free peanut sauce, I want you to try it," Andrew says.

It’s delicious and I can see from the kids’ empty plates that they like it too. Making foods from a variety of cultures is important to Bernard, who regularly features meals like Jamaican beef patties with jerk seasoned beans, Curried lentils with Naan, and Veggie lo Mein with spring rolls and edamame. Students like Livia are all in:

"I like that Chef Andrew makes hot lunch, it’s nice and it’s fresh, and I like that he doesn’t buy the food."

The students I spoke with had parents from Jamaica, South Africa, Mexico, Portugal, and other countries — Provincetown has the most diverse student body of any district on the Cape. Bernard wants his menu to match this, and he says cooking from a diversity of cultures also helps overcome some regulatory challenges that can make food bland and boring:

Looking out at the cafeteria from behind the line, with a row of complimentary notes from students.
Elspeth Hay
Looking out at the cafeteria from behind the line, with a row of complimentary notes from students.

"I mean you have to follow whole grain standards, you have to follow salt standards, um so one way of getting past that is curries, garlic powder, chili peppers, pepper period, um, those kind of elevate things without having to add too much salt," Andrew explains.

The chicken satay he marinated overnight with coconut milk, curry powder, and a pinch of brown sugar. By making foods from scratch like this, Bernard says he’s been able to avoid doing his ordering through the government commodity food programs:

"I get emails saying we have 1,000 chicken patties for this month, I don’t have that many kids, nor do I want to serve chicken sandwiches every day for three weeks," Andrew explains. "Like, it’s just, it’s not really our thing, we put a lot of elbow grease into our meals, food costs, everything is going up, but we’re paying similar prices to what other districts are paying per meal."

Before Bernard took over the kitchen seven years ago, Provincetown became a Community Eligible Provisions district, which means school lunch is free to all of the students, and he wants all of them to get hot lunch every day.

"Our goal is to feed every kid. Like I don’t want any kid to be bringing home lunch, I think that’s like a small personal goal I have, like a challenge."

Right now, about 125 out of the district’s 143 kids get hot lunch most days. Bernard acknowledges that part of the reason he’s able to cook so much from scratch and be creative with his menus is because Provincetown is a small school district:

"If I worked for a bigger district I don’t know if I’d be able to keep this up, this kind of program, I’ll be very honest, the amount of kids, the amount of production we’d have to make. You can feed a thousand kids with a thousand chicken sandwiches quickly. You know you can — I see the reason they do it, logistically we could do it, but that would make my life boring and these kids boring, they wouldn’t come to school every day, you know, what’s for lunch today, what’s he making today? I’m still that kid, I still want to know what’s for lunch every day."

An avid locavore, Elspeth lives in Wellfleet and writes a blog about food. Elspeth is constantly exploring the Cape, Islands, and South Coast and all our farmer's markets to find out what's good, what's growing and what to do with it. Her Local Food Report airs Thursdays at 8:30 on Morning Edition and 5:45pm on All Things Considered, as well as Saturday mornings at 9:30.