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Chef Mike shares cooking talent with students

Chef Michael Holleman asks the big question of Horace May Elementary kindergarten students: Do you like my recipe? Holleman worked with food service staff Tuesday to make fajita chicken and rice with fresh cut red peppers and onions. Holleman is helping create new recipes with the school district through the Chef’s Move to School Program. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Any time you have major changes in your school, you need the support of the parents, according to Chef Michael Holleman.

Holleman has been working with District #31 food service for the past four years.

“I had a daughter entering kindergarten and I wanted to learn what she was eating,” Holleman said. “So I signed up online to Michelle Obama’s Chef’s Move to School Program and I was happy to see that Marleen Webb, District #31 Food Service Coordinator, had already signed in and was looking for a chef.”

Holleman was at Horace May Elementary on Tuesday working with the staff preparing and serving a Fajita chicken with rice meal that included fresh cut red peppers and onions.

“We’ve had a fantastic working relationship with Chef Mike. He has helped create new recipes that include more whole grains,” said Webb. “All designed to meet the USDA nutritional criteria’s. Students have noticed our staff has included more vegetables in our main meals.”

If they served something new, some students may not be interested in it. But with Chef Mike’s presence, he engages and walks around and asks for thumbs up or down, Webb said.

“With his help, it has given us an opportunity to expand the offerings for the kids,” Webb added. 

“The high school students are into good food, the middle schooler’s think the hat is cool but many of the younger kids have never tasted these recipes, it’s so new to them,” said Holleman.  “All I ask them is to take one taste, as you can see the majority give me the thumbs up.”

“Bemidji is blessed to have a progressive school district; other districts are contacting me for training, as a parent it’s nice to see,” Holleman added.

Six of the District #31 elementary schools’ food service staff recently received the “Gold Award of Distinction,” a national award for exceeding the criteria for their meal programs, nutrition and physical activity. 

One kindergarten student was heard to say, “I’m so glad I came to school today, lunch was delicious.”