Beef it Up: North Dakota school cooks learn new recipes, methods for serving local beef
School kitchen managers and cooks in North Dakota recently participated in an educational workshop about cooking beef, and ‘beefing up’ school plates. The class was a collaboration between numerous groups including the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota (I-BAND), North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI), North Dakota Department of Agriculture (NDDA), North Dakota Beef Commission (NDBC), North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) and Cenex Harvest States (CHS). The workshop took place at the Heritage Center in Bismarck on Thursday, August 11.
Approximately 70 people including 50 cooks, support staff, I-BAND board members, and the North Dakota Beef Commission attended to hear from speakers Rebecca Polson, a certified chef from Minneapolis, Jason McKenney with NDFU Cooperative and Transportation Director, John Roswech with South 40 Beef Processing Plant, Corey Hart with Bowdon Meat Processing, Rhonda Amundson with NDDPI and Kayla Hart with ND FFA.
IBAND Office Manager Kari Goldade was instrumental in the construction of the class. Board member Jeremy Maher brought the idea to the table, and Goldade took over from there. She helped select the speakers recommended from Deb Egeland or other board members, found a location, and worked with various organizations across the state to make the class well-rounded and beneficial for school cooks across the state.
“The biggest difficulty was probably finding a venue, because we didn’t know what the class size was going to be. It was also a challenge to figure out which route to take with speakers, and find speakers that could be relevant to the subject matter,” Goldade said.
She said the feedback they’ve received from the schools has all been great.
“We sent out a poll to everyone in attendance that day, and the feedback has come back really, really well. They liked the material that was talked about and they thought it was relevant. Most of them said they really liked the cookbook, so in the future we can just add new recipes with different cuts of beef,” Goldade said.
Attendants all received goodies sponsored by IBAND and the NDBC, including a cookbook with hand-selected, from-scratch beef recipes, a food code book provided by the Department of Health, kitchen items, and notepads and pens.
Assistant Director at the ND DPI Child Nutrition Program and head of the Farm to School program, Deb Egeland knew this class was important for helping schools serve more local beef by giving the kitchen managers and cooks new recipes. The NDBC suggested Rebecca Polson, a School Nutrition Specialist, as a featured speaker. She demonstrated how to prep and cook hamburger patties in the oven so they look more appetizing, instead of having grayish grease pockets (as a few of the cooks had expressed concern over). Polson also made a Korean beef bowl which Deb said was delicious, and tater-tot hotdish.
“The biggest takeaway I think the cooks had was how easy it could be to serve home-raised beef more often. One cook said she had a lot of commodity beef left but wanted to start serving local beef, and I told her to just serve it more often. They can serve beef three days a week,” Egeland noted. She said there was no aspect of serving homegrown beef they didn’t cover in the class.
“The only thing I would have changed is I would have also invited the childcare providers, but some of them are so short-staffed it would have been difficult for them to get away to come attend the class,” Egeland said.
Egeland, Goldade and the other class organizers selected one meat processor from each side of the state to speak. Corey Hart, feeder and part owner of Bowden Meat Processing in central North Dakota, answered questions about the possibilities for providing different cuts of meat to the schools.
“It’s kind of sad, some of these schools only serve beef once a week. I think the main issue is the cooks worrying about how much time it will take to prep the meat, and the second issue is pricing. Some commodity beef is $1 cheaper than ours. A lot of the schools are pinching pennies right now, but some of the schools really want our beef,” Hart said. Overall, he thought the class went great but he would have liked more kitchen managers and cooks to have the opportunity to attend.
Hart also mentioned during the workshop that Bowden Meat Processing will provide ground beef to any school across the state. While the logistics have been a challenge, he said the schools he’s worked with in the past year have been a ‘homerun’. Hart emphasized that the beef is not shipped in from another country and repackaged – it’s 100% North Dakota homegrown.
Goldade and Hart both commented on the higher quality of local beef opposed to the commodity beef. While serving local beef is beneficial in some obvious ways, a few other benefits of serving locally-produced beef in schools includes the vast availability across the state, and because some students may only have access to local beef while at school.
“One of the topics that they were discussing was that in school is the only time some of these kids actually get, I don’t want to say real beef, but North Dakota home-grown and raised fresh beef. Some of the cooks said their kids have never had a roast or any other cut of beef besides hamburger, so they were going to try to bring many different cuts into the schools,” Goldade said. “The cooks were asking questions about fajitas, and if the processing plants could cut the beef into strips for them so they aren’t using up as much of their kitchen time for prepping cutting all these steaks into slices. They were full of questions.”
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