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Farm to School Chef Challenge brings healthy ideas to Buffalo schools

Dozens of Buffalo Public Schools students and their parents gobbled down kale salad with pears, blue cheese bits and cranberries at Southside Elementary School Tuesday evening as they readied for the main courses - dishes prepared by four of the region's top chefs.

Celebrity judges, including Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas, then dug into foods that included kebabs, apple taquitos, and meatballs with quinoa and Ratatouille, quesadilla with salsa, apple root salad, and plum, strawberry and grape compote.

When the school district's Farm to School Chef Challenge was over - and others in the Southside cafeteria took tastes as well – shepherd’s pie and farrow kale salad, by chef Ross Warhol of Oliver's, proved the favorite.

So now it will be served twice in December as part of the pilot Farm to School program in a dozen city schools.

From left, Aniya Wiggins of International Prep, Cameron Loyd of Emerson School of Hospitality and Ian Torres of City Honors prepare shepherd's pie for the Chef Challenge.

From left, Aniya Wiggins of International Prep, Cameron Loyd of Emerson School of Hospitality and Ian Torres of City Honors prepare shepherd's pie for the Chef Challenge.

“I’m blown away by all of the recipes,” said Bridget O'Brien-Wood, district food service director.

Farm to School bubbled up with a grassroots effort that involved students, nonprofits, regional farmers and others who look to build partnerships between regional agriculture and school districts not only in Buffalo, but across Western New York. The goal to provide local food high in nutritional value, at a reasonable cost.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided the first grant, $45,000, which helped jumpstart planning in Buffalo schools early last year. Earlier this year, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets provided a $43,000 grant to continue to develop a Harvest of the Month program.

"These kitchens are tough to work in and the guidelines are tough to meet, so that’s all part of it, too,”

Bobby Anderson, a former contestant on the TV series "Hell’s Kitchen," prepared about a dozen student to volunteer as assistant chefs to work with the chefs on Chef Challenge dishes, including his own.

Southside Elementary eighth-graders Quinn Colin, left, and Raven Littlejohn, right, flank chef Bobby Anderson as they work on Anderson competition entry in the Southside kitchen.

Southside Elementary eighth-graders Quinn Colin, left, and Raven Littlejohn, right, flank chef Bobby Anderson as they work on Anderson competition entry in the Southside kitchen.

Anderson, of Niagara Falls, is executive director of F Bites, a nonprofit designed to teach students healthy nutritional and cooking skills to maybe one day use in their professions - but to start using right away with their families in their homes.

The other chefs included Clyde Clemmons of The Fire Spot and Jim Guarino of Oshun and Shango.

"All of these chefs are doing this out of the kindness of their hearts," O'Brien-Wood said.

She expressed hope that other chefs will step up in the months to provide recipes and ideas for the pilot program.

“We really want to engage the community, so having partnerships with some chefs would really be helpful,” O’Brien-Wood said. “My real vision is that every month a different restaurant can create and feature a Buffalo school recipe.”

email: refresh@buffnews.com

Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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