Meet a Chef: Thomas Wlodarczyk

chef thomas in a gray chef uniform and gray hatChild Nutrition Supervisor
Compass Group/Chartwells K-12 Clio Area Schools, Michigan

What are your responsibilities and how many meals do you serve?

My daily responsibilities are staff training, menu development, program implementation, catering, marketing, safety program, environment and equipment updates. We serve 2,500 meals a day.

How did you decide to incorporate canned pears into your Pear & Strawberry Creamsicles?
Canned pears are always available when fresh pears are out of season. They have a soft texture which enables us to use whole pieces in the creamsicles, and incorporating the syrup helps the popsicle to have a smooth bite. It pairs great with strawberries balancing the acidity that strawberries sometimes have. This recipe is sweet and simple, and we’ll serve this again. It’s a treat for all grade levels, and a quick treat on a hot day.

What are some other ways you’ve incorporate canned pears on your menus?
We incorporate canned pears on our salad bars regularly. We also like to a make a pear crisp.

Have you used cooking techniques, such as grilling and roasting, to caramelize the sugars in canned pears, in your R&D work?
I have not incorporated canned pears into our R&D work, but would be something that I would like to explore. Using pears in a reduction to make a pear chutney would go well with the older students when accompanied with pork tenderloin. We incorporate new menu items monthly, on food holidays and new items through the great programs that Chartwells provides.

What are the top K-12 food trends that influence your menus?
One of the trends that we have paid attention to is smart snacking. We know that students like to eat-and-go more than ever, so we show them options that are available instead of grabbing something out of a vending machine. Learning to grow your own food has also been popular with the students. More and more students talk to me about what they have in the garden this year.

How do you involve students/keep them engaged in the cafeteria promotions??
We work hard at engaging the students daily in our cafeterias with digital menu boards, social media, and our fun Chartwells programs. We have implemented our Mood Boost program for Pre-5 students that teaches about how eating different fruits and vegetables help improve your mood. We also offer the Global Eats Program for our older students that brings tastes from around the world. We bring the whole district the Discovery Kitchen Program which has a new theme monthly that we add to menus.

These programs enable students to broaden their view of food by eating things they have never tried or heard of. The meals are not only delicious, but offer the nutrition required for a healthy body and mind. We approach this by adding items to the menu, along with tastings, giveaways and social media education.

How long have you been working in K-12 foodservice?
I have been working with K-12 for 3 years, and prior to that I spent 17 years working at restaurants. Bringing students new healthy menu items has been very rewarding. We also educate about nutrition and give the students a chance to try cuisines and food that they have never had before. We also offer a culinary class to our high school students to further their education.

My goal is to bring the students best experience possible, while serving delicious nutritious meals. I have had positive feedback from the students as well as the parents. Many students go home and tell their parent that they have tried a new item that they would like to eat at home.  I have been coined “The Vegetable Guy” with our elementary students and wear the title proudly.