School cafeteria food. The phrase conjures up unpleasant memories of rubbery chicken nuggets, limp boiled vegetables, and sullen tasteless apple sauce. All of it from a jar or can or somehow prepackaged to rob it of flavor and nutrition. The jokes have all been told and the complaints have become so cliched that no one bothers to listen anymore. It’s a rite of passage for American children — choking down the cafeteria slop.
But thankfully there are still culinary Don Quixotes willing to tilt at cafeteria windmills in the hope of reviving drooping taste buds among the public school population. One such dreamer is Isaiah Ruffin, who was recently put in charge of school cafeterias in Alexandria City in Virginia. He demands his lunch ladies make 90 percent of the food from scratch. So in the morning students can now have fresh hot biscuits with real sausage gravy. For lunch he demands a variety of fresh cobb salads, chicken and waffles, and red beans with rice from his staff.
He refuses to call his food preparers anything but chefs, and works with each school in turn to inspire them to explore new recipes.
Ruffin is convinced that snacks and sodas are ruining school children’s appetites so they can’t appreciate good food when they get it. He’s hoping they’ll change their minds this year.