Friday, September 24, 2010

local hero

When I mentioned Chef Bill Telepan’s name to my uptown sister she swooned: “I LOVE his restaurant Telepan! It is always a fantastic treat!!” 
The conversation got sweeter when I told my sister I had been hired to cook his recipes in a public school lunch room. Chef Telepan has become a passionate and highly active partner with Wellness in the Schools (WITS) a not-for-profit organization dedicated to combating childhood obesity and bringing healthier lunch programs to the NY City public schools. This is the first year WITS, which had been operating on a volunteer basis, has raised enough money to hire 19 trained cooks to be placed in 19 public schools around the city, working closely with the schools existing lunch staff and their school community to bring Chef Telepan’s menus to reality.

I am thrilled and honored beyond belief to be part of this new venture. We, the cooks, have been undergoing extensive training these past two weeks in nutrition, teaching methods, Board of Ed procedures, and the realities of our country’s alarming health statistics. Everyone involved in WITS is incredibly excited and energized about the coming school year. We begin the new lunch menus (food cooked from scratch in the school kitchens replacing reheated frozen food!!!) early October.

Everyone is working so hard to make this program a success, but I have to give a huge standing ovation to Bill Telepan himself for the massive hours of time and dedication he has put in to creating a menu that could be realized ultimately in every school in this city (and this country!)
Here is my entire vegetable garden yield for the week. One tomato. Stop laughing. I am so proud AND it is an heirloom! It tastes wonderful, a delicate sweet tomato flavor.

During this week of training we spent a day in the Telepan restaurant and just when everyone was feeling weak and weary from all the information being exchanged, out from the Telepan kitchen came a beautiful buffet lunch of sandwiches and salads. The knock-out dish for me was a magnificent farmer’s market frisee salad that was so colorfully pretty I wanted to scoop it up and wear it in my hair (come on, olive oil is good for the scalp!). The radishes with a pink center cut paper thin stole my heart and the impossibly skinny chartreuse streaked haricot vert  just made me want to race out to every farm stand till I found them (where, oh where, can I get them?)
Until these secrets are revealed I will make do with a salad that approaches the spirit of the one served at Telepan. The super fresh and stunningly colored seasonal vegetables were cut on a mandoline slicer which added to the delicate ethereal beauty of this dish. Mandolines can be a tricky little item. I have sliced my fingers many times before mastering the art of paying attention. It is a lesson worth learning.

Pretty Seasonal Salad
The idea I took away from the Telepan salad was to pick a color scheme, choose farm fresh ingredients and slice VERY VERY thin.
To begin with, I did not have frisee. Ok, moving along, I had some escarole which like frisee is also a chicory. To get more of the frisee quality I decided to add some shaved fennel.

For my color scheme I went with the peachy yellow color of my tomato. Peaches, pears, marigold petals, cucumber, fennel and shaved green beans followed. For a dressing I simply added salt and freshly ground pepper, drizzled on some white balsamic vinegar for its acidic sweetness and then a swipe of walnut oil. Everything gets a good toss and then serve. I often like to dress salads this way, by eye without measuring or whisking in a separate bowl.  If you eat a lot of salads it is well worth the time to practice dressing the salads this way- fast and fresh!

Wow, Deb! That looks beautiful! Please oh please can you convince Chef Telepan to come to Westwood, NJ??? What an incredible venture he has taken on. The more I read, the more appalled I become as I learn what goes into the foods that we feed our children. Bravo to Chef Telepan and the WITS for instituting such an incredibly worthy program. Every school in this country should be following suit. It should be mandatory. And congratulations to you, Deb, for being selected to join forces with this wonderful organization and be a part of something truly amazing.

I would love to hear about some of the meals created for the schools! I know my kids are very picky eaters, especially my daughter. So, I'm curious as to how the program balances "healthy" with "kid friendly". For example, my daughter is a very limited vegetable eater so I have to find ways to sneak them in. Do you create typical "kids" meals but just use better ingredients? i.e., grilled cheese, pizza, tacos, chicken fingers, hotdogs...Those are the kinds of meals served in our school's cafeteria. (So far, for the first 2 weeks of school, I have made my childrens' lunch in an effort to have them eat healthy foods).

Now - on to the matter at hand. There is nothing I would rather sip with Deb's salad than a glass of Prosecco. Refreshing and crisp with nice acidity, this Italian bubbly would work perfectly. But there is another white that would be worthy of this beautiful, fall salad as well.

One white I absolutely love but don't mention much is Muscadet. A perfect match for Deb's salad, this white comes from Loire Valley in France. Muscadet is light, bright, fresh and crisp (and affordable) with a good amount of acidity. Melon de Bourgogne is the sole varietal used to make this wine. The most important appellation in the region is Sevre et Maine, so look for this name on the label as well as the designation "sur lies". This means the wine has been kept on its lees (mostly dead yeast and skins) throughout the winter, after harvest, before bottling.

Muscadet is typically low in alcohol too - another reason to enjoy it if you're enjoying Deb's salad in the afternoon! But if you're in the mood for Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, or a dry Riesling - go for it! Any of these are terrific alternatives!


  1. Not to be crude about it, but I was thinking about licking my screen. That tomato says "flavor". You only got one, but what a one!

  2. What a wonderful opprtunity for all in the school system - excellent!
    The salad looks so inviting and mouth-watering.


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