Times Herald reports: Students at Eisenhower academy, Norristown, learn their ‘Eatiquette'Eisenhower Middle School students participate in the Eatiquette program sponsored by the Vetri Foundation in Noristown Thursday, March 6, 2014. Photo by Gene Walsh/Times Herald Staff.NORRISTOWN — The light sound of a piano composition by Beethoven played as the smells of chicken curry stew wafted from the kitchen at Eisenhower Science and Technology Leadership Academy.
Like one big family, students filed into the cafeteria and placed themselves around the tables of eight that were set in advance by the student “table captains.” Once the student and staff servers brought the small feasts to the tables, students unfolded their napkins, placed them on their laps with perfect manners, and shared a gourmet meal.
This family-style eating environment will be found in Eisenhower every week through a new partnership between the Norristown Area School District and the Vetri Foundation for Children.
The first run of the Vetri Foundation’s Eatiquette program took place Thursday. The foundation was established by chef Marc Vetri and restaurateur Jeff Benjamin in 2008 to rid schools of the current “assembly line” food programs and bring nutritional meals in a package that teaches students the value of nutritional eating and fosters a healthy sense of community.
Vetri, an award-winning chef famous for establishing successful restaurants in downtown Philadelphia, is also the brother of Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman. When Ferman, a board member of the Vetri Foundation, heard that the foundation wanted to bring its program to Montgomery County, she immediately thought of Norristown.
“I knew Dr. Samuels would be interested in such an innovative program,” Ferman said, referring to Norristown Area School District Superintendent Janet Samuels. “It was such a perfect community. It had to start in Norristown. It’s really special being here in my hometown.”
Ferman was right: Samuels was thrilled to bring the program to Norristown.
“It’s so wonderful seeing all the students sitting down together and sharing a meal,” Samuels said. “It’s a great community experience.”
Christina Taylor, principal at Eisenhower, agreed with Samuels.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to help prepare students for life,” Taylor said.
“There’s so many skills that go into family-style eating,” said Kelly Herrenkohl, director of the Vetri Foundation.
Herrenkohl explained that since the school board approved the program, Vetri chefs and staff members have been meeting with the district’s food service department to prepare the chefs, food staff and faculty members to run the program out of the cafeteria.
Vetri program coordinators Matthew Whipple, Wadiya Gooden, and Brandon Barnar have helped the food staff at Eisenhower learn how to budget for and implement the large gourmet food production.
“We had a test-run last week where the staff prepared a small-scale version of today’s menu,” Whipple said. “One the staff can sustain the program on their own, we take a step back and act as consultants.”
For Cheryl Riccioli, the Eatiquette program is a return to the way things used to be. Giving a tour behind the scenes, where the food staff was busy preparing the next wave of meals, Riccioli pointed to gigantic stainless steel stove and oven combination.
“I could not tell you the last time that stove was used,” Riccioli said. “Now we’re sautéing and browning in a school kitchen.”
Riccioli, a veteran chef used to the labor-intensive preparation required of cooking from scratch, said she is grateful to have the staff she does.
“We’re not used to dicing 90 pounds of potatoes or chickens,” Riccioli said. “But they want the experience, and they want to let the children have that experience. This is an opportunity for kids who might not have the chance at home see how a family meal is shared, the conversation — all of that.”
Riccioli said the students have been just as eager as her staff.
“The students have been so willing to come in and help,” she said, referring to the table captains chosen to help serve and clean up the meals. “The kids are taking charge and really helping.”
Each table had a student captain and a faculty member there to remind students of proper etiquette and to help serve.
Zion Hendley, a student table captain, said he loved the experience.
At first, Zion said, he was skeptical of the meal composed of chicken curry stew, couscous with chives and peas, tossed salad with carrots, fresh oranges and 2 percent milk. Not more than a half hour later, however, he could be seen taking a completely empty plate to the kitchen for washing.
“I tried it. It was really good,” he shouted across the cafeteria.
Jennifer Salcedo-Colin, also at Zion’s table, said it was the first time she tried couscous.
“It’s very good,” she said as she finished off her plate. “I like it because it’s healthy.”
Walking up to Riccioli, Norristown’s Food Services Director Debbie Martin commented on how much the students liked the meal.
“I’ve never seen so many cleaned plates,” she said.
Riccioli said she was happy the students liked the food and was excited to try out different menus.
“Next week the main course is turkey-burgers.”
For more information on Eatiquette and the Vetri Foundation visit www.vetrifoundation.org.