By David Salzillo Jr.
Purple Post Assistant Editor
A once dismal cafeteria hall is now bustling with activity. Students wait in food stations lined with new and varied healthy options, ranging from Mexican-inspired dishes to vibrant Mediterranean cuisine. Cafeteria workers hustle to meet growing student demand, reflected by lunch lines that now stretch across the entire hallway. But perhaps most importantly, students are more engaged in the school lunch experience, doing everything from making their own hamburgers to enjoying popular new dishes such as the Caesar Salad.
And it’s all because of Taste4, a new school lunch program initiated by Sodexo, a leading food and facilities management company, as part of a radical new experiment centered around student input. It represents a marked departure from previous school lunch programs at Classical, like the Crossroads program implemented last year.
To gain an understanding of the inner workings of this program and its enactment at Classical, however, I interviewed Marilyn Gallucci, the area manager of Sodexo for Classical High School, and Chef Joanne Cafarelli, who Ms. Gallucci jokingly calls “my personal chef,” and one of the key architects of the Taste4 program at Classical.
“She is a very important part of this program and its success,” Ms. Gallucci explained to me.
Sodexo, hired by the Providence Public School Department to manage food services, designed this program with the help of both students and their corporate marketing team.
“We realized that the students’ taste buds were more eclectic than students from decades before,” Ms. Cafarelli further elaborated, “and we wished to stay on top of these trends.”
Because of this, the program has incorporated all types of international cuisine into the school lunches.
“I love that Taste4 has more globally-interesting foods,” Ms. Gallucci remarked, “this month it’s Mexican-type food, the next month it might be Mediterranean.”
“It’s all tailored to the students.” Ms. Cafarelli asserted.
“And the best part,” Ms. Gallucci added, “is that all the food we make meets Rhode Island and U.S. nutritional standards.”
“A lot of it is homemade too,” Ms. Cafarelli interjected, “we serve pasta everyday with homemade breadsticks.”
“And the bread for the sandwiches on the deli was freshly baked.” Ms. Gallucci noted.
“On top of that, we also offer fresh fruit everyday.” Ms. Cafarelli revealed.
“Everything is fresh here.” Ms. Gallucci proudly stated.
And the newfound freedom students have in “creating their own lunch” as Ms. Cafarelli succinctly put it, is all part of a general initiative to make the students’ lunch experience as exciting as possible.
“I think that the students are excited because the food is exciting again.” Ms. Gallucci enthusiastically told me.
“We want the students to be enthusiastic about what we’re doing,” Ms. Cafarelli affirmed, “they shouldn’t come in looking for something to eat, they should be trying to decide what they’re going to eat.”
“We have went through 8 cases of Romaine lettuce in two days [for the Caesar Salad],” Ms. Gallucci continued, “but if the students eat it, I’ll get 20 cases if I have to. I just want students to be able to come to school and have a decent meal.”
But how effective is this new program in meeting its goals? Most students told me that they saw a noticeable improvement, and particularly praised the new Caesar Salad.
“I think the quality of the food has certainly improved from last year.” One Junior told me. However, he also noted that it took much longer to serve the food, and complained of the long lines in the cafeteria.
As for this, Ms. Gallucci and Ms. Cafarelli believe that it will eventually work itself out.
“We’re all learning this on our own,” Ms. Gallucci told me, “we’re certainly going to work on it.”
“We will do this as smart as possible,” Ms. Cafarelli concurred, “And it’s certainly getting better. The deli was extremely busy at first, but then it started to balance out. The lines will move faster when both the students and the staff eventually get the hang of it.”
Ms. Gallucci in particular hopes that there will be more opportunities for constructive criticism.
“We want to organize a forum with Mr. Barr [the school principal].” She explained to me.
They will certainly have plenty of time to put this into practice, as the project is still in its experimental phase, and Classical is the only school as of now that follows the program.
“And we’re very honored to have it here,” Ms. Gallucci asserted, “this is a very food-savvy school.”
But, while acknowledging room for improvement, both Ms. Gallucci and Ms. Cafarelli are confident that the program will do what it set out to accomplish.
And, perhaps, lunch will be a little more interesting.