Chef Ann Cooper, one of the best known “lunch ladies” in the country, has been re-imagining the way students in Boulder Valley School District eat lunch, putting an emphasis on healthy foods and local produce. Through her work, she hopes to bring her students closer to the foods they eat as those foods change with the passing seasons.
Yellow Scene: What is your personal food philosophy as a chef? How does local food play into that?
Ann Cooper: I appreciate the history and sense of place behind the dishes I create and the ingredients I use. I’m interested in unique dishes from around the world, and I love to experience the ways different societies use their traditional ingredients and what’s in season along with a variety of flavors to create dishes that are distinctive. I think it is important to support your local community by buying from nearby farms, and I love to peruse the Farmers Market every week and base meals on what I find. Additionally, I believe we need to grow, eat and serve food without chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, dyes, and other “unnatural” ingredients.
YS: How has seasonal cooking colored or shaped your menus this year?
AC: For the school district, we have decided to feature a local harvest each month. We called upon students to create fruit and vegetable art, and the winning designs are a part of our calendar this year. We incorporate the seasons into our menu by changing our salad bars seasonally, we create fun and healthy desserts as produce comes in season such as carrot cake and berry crisps, and we do a cooked vegetable du jour as the menu allows. This year we’re piloting a program where all of our 17 schools with gardens are growing summer squash, which will be harvested and served in all of our schools in September.
YS: What do you hope your work with the BVSD will accomplish?
AC: My hope is our students start to eat healthier in their everyday lives as well as at school. I hope by sharing these foods with them, it will help them to develop a taste for wholesome ingredients and healthful dishes. They get to experience the seasons in their cafeterias by watching the salad bars change by season, and we often ask our staff to discuss with the students why the menu changes as the season does. For some of our students, this may be the only meal they receive in a day—I want that meal to be as healthy and flavorful
Chef Ann Cooper focuses on finding the best quality and value when she uses local farms. Some of her favorites are Beyond Organic Farm, Isabelle Farm, Cultiva! and the GROWE Foundation.
How cool is this? A local farmer and a CU student partner up to begin a farming project that grows amazing organic food for local consumers and also becomes a learning tool for university students. Taking a cue from Michael Pollan, Beyond Organic is not focused on “organic” as a label—but rather, the farmers work to show a commitment to community and sustainability by growing healthy crops in a fully sustainable agricultural system. beyondorganicfarm.com