Types of Chef Demos
The smells, sounds, and visual appeal of cooking can make your cafeteria come alive. Chef demos offer an interactive experience that is appropriate for all age groups. It is an especially useful tool for engaging secondary students in school lunch participation.
Similar to Tastings, chef demos give students the opportunity to try new foods with the added advantage of watching the cooking process. Since kids often perceive school lunch as not fresh, tasteless, or lack luster, a demo can help change their perceptions and provide students with a positive view of what it takes to make a school lunch.
Types of Chef Demos
Menu Item Demo
Participation is important to school lunch programs, and convincing kids to try a school lunch does require some encouragement. Offering live cooking demos of your existing menu items will attract interest and garner the participation results your program needs. Here are ways to engage students in the demo:
- Plan a menu item demo the day before the item is being served so you can encourage the kids to buy school lunch the next day.
- Bump up your orders for the next day to ensure you have enough food to serve existing and new school lunch participants.
Local Produce Demo
Transforming fresh, local produce into a tasty recipe before kids’ eyes is always a win-win. This creates an opportunity to educate students on seasonality and the importance of purchasing local foods. Here are ways to engage students in the demo:
- Engage their senses when cooking. Ask students to touch, taste, smell, and visually describe the item whole vs. sliced fresh vs. cooked. What differences do they see?
- Coordinate the demo in conjunction with a Harvest of the Month program (see Art Contests for description).
- Invite a local chef to perform the demo. You can also invite the local farmer who grew the ingredient(s) to be there. Make sure that the guest chef highlights the importance of community, buying locally, and cooking from scratch. If you have a farmer accompany your guest chef, he/she can talk about the importance of sustainable farming.
How to Conduct a Chef Demo
This is a step-by-step plan for hosting a Chef Demo lunchroom education event. The guide provides links to communication templates that can be customized for your own Chef Demo.
- First, decide which kind of chef demo you’d like to host:
- A sample of a low-participation or new menu item demo.
- A local produce demo to introduce local vegetables and fruits prepared by a local chef.
- Send a Letter to Administration asking for permission to host the chef demo event in the cafeteria during lunch.
- Invite a local chef to participate in your event with a Local Chef Outreach Letter. Note: While we suggest having a local chef perform the demo, it is not necessary in order to have a successful event. A chef from the food services team is also an option.
- If you do work with a local chef, find out how your team can assist with their demo preparations.
- Send a Chef Demo Event Flyer to the PTO/PTA to distribute to parents. Also send flyers to administration to hang up around the school. Ask administration to remind students and teachers about the event during morning announcements.
- Contact your school or district to find out about their in-school volunteer policies for both parents and outside volunteers.
- Invite PTO/PTA to participate with a Volunteer Outreach Letter. If there is not a strong parent presence available, you can invite community members or college volunteers.
Note: It’s helpful to send your volunteer guide along with the letter so that parents know what will be expected of them during the event. Here is a Sample Volunteer Guide.
- Inform all onsite kitchen staff about their responsibilities leading up to, and for the day of, the event.
Prior to the Chef Demo
- If this is your first chef demo event, you’ll want to order food and supplies with the assumption that 100% of the student body will participate. If you plan on continuing these events, you can anticipate 80% participation. Make sure that you order any necessary portion cups, plates, or sample boats with forks or spoons for serving.
Note: If you’re demoing a low-participation menu item, we suggest that you hold the event the day before that item is being served on the menu so that you can encourage kids to buy school lunch the next day.
- Identify all potential allergens in order to relay to all onsite staff and volunteers.
- Prepare all necessary equipment including portable burners, fuel, sautée pans, serving utensils, knives, cutting board, towels, gloves, etc.
- If you plan on taking pictures or video of the event for social media or other external marketing purposes, make sure that you understand the school’s protocol for obtaining media releases. This includes gaining permission from guardians of students as well as any adults featured in the images.
Day of the Chef Demo
- Instruct chefs and volunteers to arrive 30 minutes prior to lunch.
- Welcome all chefs and volunteers and show them around the kitchen.
- Introduce chefs and volunteers to the staff and explain general kitchen ground rules.
- Remind all volunteers about sanitation, allergens, and appropriate behavior found in the volunteer guide.
- Encourage everyone to actively engage students in conversation about the demo and to ask them about their experiences with cooking.
- Designate a volunteer/intern to take pictures of the event. Make sure they follow your district’s protocol for this.
- Set up the cooking station with all necessary equipment.
- Start cooking before the lunch period begins; the smells will draw students to the station.
- If time permits—and sanitary and safety procedures are followed—invite students to participate in the cooking.
- Instruct kids to dispose of all sample cups and utensils in proper waste receptacles. The custodian staff will be very grateful!
- Send a follow-up email or letter for administration to distribute to school parents. Include pictures and any fun kid quotes or comments from the day. This will inform parents who were unable to attend or didn’t hear about the event, possibly motivating them to participate in the future.
- Thank-you letters are always a good way to get your volunteers coming back for more. Be sure to send your volunteers a quick thank-you to let them know you appreciate their help.
Chef Demo Resources
Take advantage of the following resources and documents when planning your own chef demos. You can tailor them to meet your event specifications.
- Chef Demo Planning How-To Guide: This guide covers every aspect of planning—from communication to event-day tasks.
- Chef Demo Letter to Administration: You’ll want to get permission to host your event in the cafeteria during lunch. While you’re at it, ask for support in marketing your chef demos to the school community.
- Chef Demo Volunteer Outreach Letter: Distribute this letter through your PTA/PTO to enlist volunteers and to promote your event.
- Sample Volunteer Guide: This guide sets the standard for your school food program by outlining responsibilities and expectations for your volunteers.
- Chef Demo Event Flyer: Add your event information to this printable flyer and hang it throughout your school and cafeteria leading up to the event.
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