Kraft or Carbonara? Telepan Discusses How to Get Kids Past Fast Food

As the executive chef at Wellness in the Schools, an organization that brings healthy meals to 30,000 public school students, Telepan knows what it takes to get kids on board with tropical kale salad and autumn squash soup.

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We were pretty impressed when Bill Telepanwho trained under Alain Chapel, Daniel Boulud, and Gilbert Le Coze—was awarded a 2014 Michelin star for his eponymous Upper West Side restaurant. But his menu of lobster Bolognese and heritage pork is not Telepan’s only feat.

According to WNYC radio host Leonard Lopate, “Michelin judges can be rather tough to please, but his toughest critics may be the children he caters to.”

For the fourth annual Lopate and Locavores series, Telepan and Lopate sat down for a conversation called “Getting Kids Past Fast Food.” As the executive chef at Wellness in the Schools, an organization that brings healthy meals to 30,000 public school students, Telepan knows what it takes to get kids on board with tropical kale salad and autumn squash soup.

With hundreds of palates to please, a tight budget and strict government guidelines, finding a combination of foods that kids will enjoy is not easy. According to Telepan, lunchtime is all about marketing. “If the cool kid passes you by, then every other kid passes you by. But if the cool kid comes up to you and starts eating it, then everyone will gather around. One of the things we’ve talked about is finding who the cool kid is.”

Telepan also works to get children more involved with their food. Through schoolwide tastings, cooking labs and gardening programs, students get a better understanding for how their food gets from farm to plate. “If they grow it, they will eat it; if they cook it, they will eat it.”

To demonstrate, Telepan brought a group of five children on stage to help prepare honey mustard vinaigrette and a traditional carbonara with eggs, cheese and bacon. When it was time to taste, they willingly doused raw radishes in the vinaigrette, and they inhaled the pasta while it was still too hot for their little mouths. “Bacon’s my favorite food,” one little girl declared.

The evening culminated with a blind taste test for the children, where Telepan put his homemade mac and cheese and vanilla pudding up against the packaged versions by Kraft and My-T-Fine. The mac and cheese vote went to Telepan, with four out of five children preferring his “cheesier” version. Surprisingly, three out of five kids preferred the My-T-Fine pudding.

When Telepan asked his panel of tasters what they preferred about the packaged pudding, the resounding answer was “yours was too sweet.” Telepan has proven once again that children’s palates are more refined than we give them credit for.

We’re longtime fans of Telepan’s work. To read more about his activities in schools, don’t miss “Three-Star Chef Hits the School Cafeteria” from the September-October 2009 edition of Edible Manhattan.

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When Marissa was a little girl, she threw her bottle and pacifier down the stairs and begged for "real food." More than two decades later, her passion for real food has grown into a part of her everyday life. Marissa graduated in May 2014 with a Masters in Food Studies from NYU, where she focused her research on food politics and food culture. She has taught children’s nutrition, gardening and cooking classes for the past four years, and she will spend the next academic year as a FoodCorps service member in Guilford County, North Carolina.