Cooking up Change Q&A with Chef Stephen Menyhart, ‘Cheferee’ for the 2010 Contest

November 01, 2010

Today we're spotlighting Cooking up Change supporter Stephen Menyhart. This year he'll act as “Cheferee” of our 2010 contest, making sure all rules and recipes are followed. He's also a former Cooking up Change mentor is currently chef at the Academy of Global Citizenship in Chicago Public Schools. We're thrilled to have his support (and Cheferee skills) for Cooking up Change this year.

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Stephen Menyhart (left) with the Corliss H.S. team at Cooking up Change 2009

What is your chef background?

I have been working in the cooking field since I was 19 years old. In 2005, after many years as a restaurant line cook, I completed a bachelor degree at the Center for Inner City Studies, in Chicago.  After graduating, I sought to re-enter the field full time, but from a different angle.

I was directed to Chef Lisa Gershenson at Perspectives Charter School. The chefs at this school were preparing healthy, high quality daily meals for their students. Since then, I made school nutrition my career focus. I managed the cafeteria at Perspectives-Calumet Charter School for one year and worked at the Gary Comer Youth Center for two years. Most recently, I have been working as a culinary trainer within CPS, and also ran a culinary boot camp for school cooks in Rockford, Ill. with my colleague Melissa Ritter.

What does healthy school food mean to you?

To me, healthy school food means offering an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies, eliminating a la carte junk food items; food that does not rely too much on fat, salt and sugar for flavor.

What are your best and worst food memory from your school days?

Best memory:  My mother used to pack me a detailed brown bag lunch most days of the year. My favorite was PB&J, carrot sticks, and juice. Worst memory: Soaking up grease from the pizzas with a napkin before eating. 

What three things can each of us do to ensure that all students get healthy school food every day?

  1. Every citizen can press their elected officials for increased funding for child nutrition programs
  2. If you’re a parent, get actively involved with your children’s school food service
  3. If you’re a food service professional, share your expertise, knowledge and recipes with local schools

Why is Cooking up Change important?

Being a mentor for the last two years has allowed me to see the growth and development of these students. I have seen them progress from having no idea what to do to having a plan. Students learned to work within a team, leaders quickly emerged and all built self-esteem and confidence.

How has being involved with Cooking up Change impacted you?

It has further promoted my desire to improve the health of school nutrition offerings. The students’ energy and enthusiasm for the competition has certainly inspired me in my own professional endeavors.

Are you ready? Cooking up Change 2010 happens on November 4! Visit www.cookingupchange.org for tickets and more information.