Posts Tagged ‘Chef’s Training Program’

So, just a few weeks ago, our grad Nancy Ligouri asked me – NGI’s social media guy – if she could start a Facebook page for grads and current students. I told her that it was a great idea. Several people had offered to do it before, but never got around to it. It seemed like a project that should come from a student or grad, so I never interfered.

To my surprise, Nancy had the page up and running in about 2 seconds flat. Within a day, it had about 1,000 members (at current, 1,037). I could put an exclamation point following that, but I never use them.

More to my surprise: the page rapidly took on a life of its own – or maybe more accurate to say the life of its members. Dialogue of all kinds proliferated, and members were talking about all sorts of things I’d never imagined the page would host.

To me the page is very exciting. You could almost say “organic.” It truly expresses what our students do, think, want.

Some members use it for sharing tech info . . .

Some for braggin’ rights . . .

Some share their own social media . . .


Members have been sharing news about upcoming events . . .



Have a question about culinary zeitgeist?


How about advice for upcoming exams . . .


Did ya hear about that field trip with Chef Rich?





and JOBS . . .


This is just a sampling of what the page is doing. If you’re a future, current, or former student, join up. You’ll learn something.


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Our third contest winner, Debbie Rosmarin, graduated from our Chef’s Training Program earlier this year. Debbie shares an insightful and empowering story about her newly-adopted health-supportive lifestyle.

Debbie writes:

I am a graduate of Natural Gourmet Institute’s Chef’s Training Program. The education I received has completely changed how I feel about food in relation to the earth, cooking, and overall health.  I was never someone who noticed plants or liked to be outside, but getting on the path to eating natural foods made me feel more connected to the earth.  I can go to the farmers market and really think about the path that the animal, vegetable, or grain came from before it got to my plate. When eating from a can or package, it is difficult to make a direct connection, making food seem so far removed from us.

This newfound adoration of nature has also influenced my life in other ways. My father is a dermatologist and I always feared the sun. Granted, I still don’t sunbathe and won’t be out for longer than a certain period of time without putting on sunscreen. However, I can appreciate the sun more, knowing that it provides me with Vitamin D and that it helps the plants on my windowsill grow. In general, being outside in the fresh air makes me feel more rejuvenated and happy.

This connection to the earth has also affected products I buy other than food.  I try to buy clothing that is as natural as possible, too. I also think about the beauty products I use and the effect that an external lotion can have internally. The fake chocolatey smell of products previously bought from chain stores like Bath & Body Works pale in comparison to using pure cocoa butter. As Paulo Coelho said, “It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary.”

The culinary aspect of Natural Gourmet changed how I feel about food. Cooking was a skill that I did not learn while growing up, but after Natural Gourmet, I find it extremely empower edtaking control of my own health and not feeling dependent on restaurants and prepackaged foods from the grocery store.  Cooking with wholesome ingredients makes me feel like I am treating my body the best way I can and provides me a sense of peace and control in a chaotic world.

What I love most about my newfound knowledge is that it also helps me to nourish those I love. My husband suffered from Crohns Disease for many years and mainly ate a Standard American Diet. With my influence he now looks at ingredients as much as I do and always makes sure he has an abundance of vegetables with every meal. His stomach rarely bothers him, and he now prefers coffee without artificial sweeteners, grass-fed beef, fresh organic vegetables, and foods that are unprocessed.  Seeing my husband’s health improve has made me feel humbled by the power of healing foods and in complete awe of the powerful effects it can have on one’s life.

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Chef Madea and Chef Liz conducting a healthy food demonstration at a bodega in Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY, (July 2011)

Like many of our Chef’s Training graduates, Chefs Liz Fleischman and Madea Allen are working to improve the quality, nutrition, and overall appeal of our nation’s school lunches. Both are chefs working with SchoolFood, the New York City Department of Education’s initiative “committed to promoting healthy food choices for our students and maintaining high nutritional standards while offering delicious, healthy, and satisfying menu options to reach this goal.” Here they share their experience of the past year giving high school salad bars a sometimes much-needed makeover.

We are both Chef’s Training graduates of Natural Gourmet Institute and are known around New York public high schools as the “Salad Bar Chefs.”

For the last year, we have worked in school kitchens to enhance salad bars as part of a project initiated by the NYC Department of Health and funded by the Center for Disease Control.  The project’s aim is to make salad bars more appealing to young people so they eat more vegetables. If we achieve our goal, we can decrease the rate of obesity in this generation.

Many New Yorkers are surprised to learn that every New York public high school has a salad bar. They don’t know that cafeteria meals in New York public schools are some of the best in the country.  For example, only whole grain bread and pasta is served, and no trans-fats, corn syrup, MSG or artificial colorings are allowed in any of the packaged products served to students. Fresh fruit is offered every day.

These standards might seem overly basic but, considering the state of food in most US schools, they’re very forward-thinking. It’s because of these changes made over the last decade that obesity rates among New York public school students have actually decreased. Even with this good news, however, everyone agrees there is still a lot of work to do.

School salad bar quality varies widely. Some are vibrant magnets for students who pile loads of greens and cucumbers onto their plates, while others are dull and stocked with unloved produce. Overall, most could use some improvement, even if it’s a small tweak, such as changing the salad bar unit’s location or offering a greater variety of dressings. It’s our job to hone in on what a particular school needs and to provide immediate solutions.

Each New York school salad bar features large pans of standard SchoolFood green salad (romaine, spinach, shredded carrots and red cabbage), smaller pans of cut garnishes (sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.) and two or three prepared salads. The salad bars are vegan with a few exceptions.

Our job is to steer kitchen staff away from using mayonnaise-based salads and move them toward prepared salads with fresh herbs and bold flavors. For instance, we successfully influenced the decision to eliminate large tubs of pre-made, mayonnaise-based potato salad. In its place, we taught staff to prepare a delicious “Zesty Potato Salad” with roasted red potatoes, dill pickles, red onion, celery, fresh parsley and freshly made vinaigrette.

We visit a different cafeteria kitchen every two days, assessing the produce in the refrigerators, what’s available and how it’s stored. In kitchens that rely on a lot of processed and frozen foods, many staff members don’t know how to extend the life of fresh herbs or other fresh greens. We particularly emphasize the importance of proper storage and work with them to organize produce so it’s protected, organized and accessible. We also spend time talking to the cooks about their salad bar preparation routine and the popularity of certain items.

Once we investigate the situation, we get to work demonstrating new recipes, finding ways to work more efficiently, and training staff on equipment such as food processors and buffalo choppers that speed up vegetable prep. Many cafeteria staffers are short on time, working hard to get everything done by the first lunch service.  Slicing 10 pounds of zucchini in a food processor instead of by hand saves enough time to prepare a fresh dressing or a bean salad with chopped herbs.

Chef Liz with cook Maggie during a food processor training at Bronx Academy HS in June, 2011

After we set up the renovated salad bar, we watch the action from behind the counter to see the students’ reactions to the makeover. If students ignored the salad bar every day since the start of school, they will take a second look when they see a colorful and fresh array of items. They usually comment on how it looks, and we encourage them to try something new, such as a healthy coleslaw or pasta salad with roasted vegetables and basil pesto. If we stay at a school one or two days longer to monitor what’s happening, we often see the students coming back for the new item they tasted and really liked.

Many students enjoy tasty composed salads from the salad bar. Healthy coleslaw, black bean salad and vegetable lo mein are popular at many high schools throughout the city.

At many schools, cafeteria staff tell us, “These kids don’t like salad.” But once we put out more fresh items or make a new salad, we often witness renewed interest. High school students today are savvy.  They’ve seen shows on the Food Network that feature beautifully prepared salads, and they can discern a good salad bar from a neglected one.  That’s why at every visit to a cafeteria, we keep the following 5 Keys to a Successful High School Salad Bar in mind:

  1. Make it colorful.  Colorful salads entice students. They may not take every item on the salad bar, but they are drawn to it and usually find something that appeals to them.
  2. Make it fresh.  It’s easy to rely on canned items when a kitchen is busy and under stress, but fresh produce is almost always more flavorful and colorful. Once in a while, a canned bean salad is great, but fresh produce is always best!
  3. Know the students’ preferences.  In some schools, students don’t like red cabbage. Adding it to the salad mix can cause students to forego salad altogether. However, removing it can sometimes increase greens consumption. If you know your students’ preferences, you can target their favorite vegetables and focus your salad bar on those.
  4. Treat produce with care.  Proper produce storage is vital to the long-term success of the salad bar. It guarantees less waste, making the salad bar financially viable for a kitchen manager.
  5. Use tasty dressings.  Knowing how to make basic vinaigrette is vital for adding flavor to prepared salads. Once you know basic vinaigrette preparation, you can make many variations with added herbs, various vinegars and mustard.

When we are not busy providing culinary skills training to cafeteria workers, we lend our expertise and support to other projects and areas of SchoolFood.  These include:

Garden to School Café:  Garden to School Café is a program of NYC Department of Education, NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets and NYC Parks & Recreation, GreenThumb. The program connects school gardens and school meals through lunchtime harvest events and educational activities. The purpose is to increase students’ consumption of fresh vegetables and knowledge of healthful foods, farming and the local food system. Alongside the program coordinator, SchoolFood regional chefs and cafeteria workers, we assist with the harvesting of fresh herbs and vegetables as well as preparation of school meals using the produce.

Chef Madea harvesting baby kale during a Garden to School Café harvest event at PS 41 in West Village, New York, NY (June 2011)

Department of Health’s Healthy Bodegas Initiative:  A sister CPPW project, the aim of this initiative is to increase healthier options at local bodegas, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain bread, low-fat milk, low-salt and no-sugar-added canned goods and healthy snacks. During the summer months of 2010, we conducted 10 healthy food demonstrations at 4 bodegas in Morris Heights, Harlem and Bushwick. We showed customers quick and easy ways to prepare healthier recipes, all with food bought from the bodega. We created and gave samples of delicious recipes such as Black Bean Salad, Watermelon Pineapple Salad and Salmon Salad Sandwich.

Enhanced Inventory Program (EIP): In an effort to expose students to food items not normally associated with school lunch, the Enhanced Inventory Program allows school Principals to select items such as salmon, organic quinoa, grass-fed beef from a local NY state farm, virgin olive oil and organic legumes and to include them in their lunch menus.  So these products could be easily integrated into the school lunch program by cafeteria workers, we modified existing SchoolFood recipes, wrote new recipes and tested them in the test kitchen.

It has been beyond rewarding to use our culinary training, knowledge and skills to increase accessibility of more nutritious, fresh food to youth in New York City.  There’s more work to do in our school food system, both in New York City and throughout the nation. Hopefully, more students and graduates of Natural Gourmet will join us and seriously consider how they would improve the nutritional climate for the next generation.

South Bronx Campus High School, Bronx, New York City, Salad Bar Training, April, 2011


Healthy Coleslaw with Honey Ginger Dressing
(Serves 4-6)

1 small head green cabbage, shredded

2 carrots, shredded

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 cup olive oil

Juice of 2 lemons

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1. In a large mixing bowl, toss cabbage, carrots, red onion and parsley.  Mix well to combine ingredients thoroughly.

2. To a food processor, add olive oil, lemon juice, honey, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper.  Process until dressing is thoroughly mixed and creamy.  Adjust seasonings if necessary.

3. Toss salad with dressing.  Chill for two hours.  Serve with burger or wrap sandwich.

Zesty Potato Salad

(Serves 4-6)

2 lbs red potatoes, washed and scrubbed, large dice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 small red onion, small dice

2/3 cup dill pickle chips, medium dice

2 stalks of celery, small dice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


2/3 cup white vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, toss potatoes with olive oil, salt and black pepper.  Spread potatoes evenly on sheet pan and roast in oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender and slightly browned around edges.

3. Cool potatoes and toss with onion, pickles and celery.

4. To a food processor add vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper.  Process until ingredients become a uniform mixture.

5. Toss potatoes with vinaigrette.  Garnish with parsley.

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Chef’s Training students Roberta Roberti (text) and Elyse Prince (photos) team up again to give you a recap of a student favorite, the Brunch Class.

Recently, CTP 197 had its brunch, our first opportunity to cook a la carte in real time. We invited friends and family to the school to enjoy our offerings and to see what we’ve learned. Guests ordered off a menu and we worked in the kitchen to give them the best brunch we could muster up. (See our menu below.)

It was a busy day, beginning at 9:15. We had an hour overview of the recipes and how things would work. Then we began prepping. We chopped, measured, assessed components, and discussed presentation of the food. Sometime in the afternoon, we got a 20-minute break (that allowed me to run out for a desperately needed cup of coffee — after all, it was going to be a very busy afternoon).

I was on the crêpe station, and my task was to turn out Moroccan-style chickpea crêpes with mango sauce. The batter was made with chickpea flour and the filling was coconut-curried chickpeas and spinach. The chickpeas, soaked overnight, were ready for a short interlude in a pressure cooker. Then, I sautéed them with onion, curry powder, coconut milk, spinach, and a few other ingredients. That simmered until it was thick and flavorful. The result was a rich and complex flavor, a nice balance between the intense curry and the sweet coconut. I wasn’t sure I’d be crazy about it because coconut curry is not my first choice of flavor profile, but when I tasted it, it really “wowed” me!

My first crêpe was questionable, but by the second one, I had it under control. It was unfortunate that not many people ordered the crêpes—I was looking forward to improving my technique with each one. But the students enjoyed the leftovers. When the time came to start desserts, the Crêpes Suzette turned out to be quite popular, so I stepped in to help with those. Again, my first one was questionable, but each one got a little better.

Everyone did a great job at their stations and we did indeed give our guests a great brunch. It was also an opportunity for students to meet each other’s loved ones. We met husbands, parents, grandparents, and friends. It was nice to see the people who my fellow students have been talking about for months!

At the end, we were exhausted but, I think, exhilarated at our first real meal service. It’s getting better and better.

CTP 197W Brunch Menu


Spinach Salad, Crisped Shiitake Mushrooms, Pickled Red Onions with a Sherry Vinaigrette
Mixed Greens, Roasted Beets and Walnuts with a Creamy Horseradish Dressing and Herbed Goat Cheese on Toast


Omelets with Choice Filling of:

Sautéed Peppers
Sautéed Onions
Cheddar Cheese
Sautéed Mushrooms

Tofu Scramble with Pine Nuts, Tomatoes, Onions, Garlic, and Spices
Belgian Waffles topped with Fresh Fruit and Whipped Cream
Moroccan Style Chickpea Crepe with Mango Sauce
Tempeh Reuben on House-Made Spelt Bread with Sauerkraut, Pickles, Tomatoes, Avocado and Russian Dressing


Chocolate Pudding with Optional Whipped Cream
Crepes Suzette with Whipped Cream

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 Here, from Chef’s Training student Roberta Roberti, is a “taste” of what the program’s Cake Decorating Class is all about. Photos by Chef’s Training student Elyse Prince . . .

July ushered in the beginning CTP 197W’s baking classes and we made a great debut with our cookies. But our baking experience did not begin and end with the small, bite-size morsels. We moved on to bigger and better desserts…cakes!

While we had fun baking the cakes themselves — carrot, genoise, almond torte, carob cake and ginger, to name a few — I think it was the frostings that we were all more interested in. We did make some classic frostings (Swiss butter cream and cream cheese), but then we stepped into the brave new world of healthier, vegan alternatives. Those frostings included almond ganache, nut butter, carob, coconut-cashew, coconut ganache, and lemon tofu cream. Even the seemingly ubiquitous chocolate fudge icing we made was a page out of the ordinary, as its main ingredient was nut butter. These recipes make great options for people who love their desserts but don’t want to compromise on healthier, quality ingredients or their commitment to veganism. Most importantly, the frostings were delicious.

After we made the cakes, we decorated them. We learned how to use various tips in our pastry kits to make flowers, shells, and basket weaves. It really amazed me how beautiful these cakes turned out, considering that some students had never used a pastry bag before. I think we have a class full of naturals. If you don’t believe me, check out the photos by my classmate, Elyse Prince. Below are the recipes for Carob Cake with Walnuts and Chocolate Fudge Icing.

Baking continued with pizza, bread, and gluten-free baking. I’m going to have to go on a serious diet when these classes are over.

Carob Cake with Walnuts

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

2 tablespoons carob powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

6 tablespoons canola or melted coconut oil

2/3 cup maple syrup, room temperature

3/4 cup almond milk or soy milk, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil and flour one 8-inch cake pan and line bottom with parchment.

2. Combine dry ingredients in bowl and whisk together to combine. Set aside.

3. In separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients and pour into dry. Mix well.

4.  Pour batter into prepared baking pan.

5. Sprinkle walnuts on top.

6. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

Chocolate Fudge Icing

2 1/2 cups maple syrup

1 1/2 cups smooth nut butter

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups cocoa, sifted

1. In bowl of food processor, combine syrup, nut butter and vanilla.

2. Sift cocoa into wet mixture.

3. Continue to mix until thoroughly combined.

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Here are some photos from the Sea Vegetable Practicum in our professional program.  This class explores both the healing properties and culinary versatility of one of the world’s most nutrient dense foods. In addition to being a vitamin and mineral powerhouse, seaweed is anti-carcinogen, anti-viral, nourishing to the thyroid, heart healthy, and cleansing to the blood.  And when you know how to prepare it, it’s delicious.  Check it out!

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Full-time Chef’s Training Group 190 is close to graduation. Here are some photos of CTP 190B’s preparations, under the direction of Chef Barbara Rich, for the final dinner they designed themselves.

The menu for the dinner, taking place Friday, December 3 is as follows:

Sweet potato and fennel soup with polenta crouton, lemon cream & winter slaw

Savory seitan purse with sauteed rainbow chard, brussels sprouts, baby carrots & garlic cream sauce

Tangerine intermezzo

Velvet chocolate cake with a hazelnut glace & candied hazelnuts

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