Jonah Chasin, 2002 graduate of the Chef’s Training Program, is the new Executive Chef of the East Harlem Middle School lunch program. Since graduation, Jonah has been both a private chef and the house chef at the Pennington Friends House, a multi-cultural, intergenerational residence in Gramercy Park.
Jonah will be designing and preparing an exclusively vegetarian lunch program for approximately 100 students and 30 staff members on a budget of $2.50 per lunch. “My plan is to start off with a simple menu,” Jonah says, “preparing foods that the students will likely find more familiar, but handcrafted in a fresh and healthy fashion. In other words, I will not be using frozen, processed and prepackaged foods which, I understand, is what the students at EHS were previously served. As the students get more accustomed to fresh, non-processed foods, I will begin introducing them to ‘new’ foods, such as fresh vegetables they may not be used to eating such as kale, Brussels sprouts, and alternative proteins such as tofu and tempeh.”
Jonah will source produce from the local farmers market in East Harlem and other natural food purveyors for the remaining ingredients. He’s also in the process of setting up delivery from a local dairy farm.
When asked what his biggest challenge will be in this new venture, Jonah cited “introducing the students to food that they are not used to eating or, in some cases, food that they have never even seen. But that is one of the primary reasons I am so excited about this job. That being said, EHS has a policy that requires the students to try everything on their plates. So, for me, the bigger challenge is to make sure that all the food I prepare for the students is so tasty that the students will realize that eating fresh, healthy food can be just as satisfying and enjoyable, if not more so, than eating processed, packaged food.”
Jonah plans to integrate students into the food preparation by organizing trips to the farmers market and farms to teach students where our food comes from and why it’s important to eat from local farms. He’s also in the preliminary stages of planning a roof-top garden at the school where students can help grow vegetables and herbs to be used in the lunch menus.
One more bit of good news: Jonah hopes ultimately to take interns from NGI. “Particularly because EHS is an educational institution,” Jonah says, “I think that bringing on interns from the Natural Gourmet will be a perfect fit.”