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The Lunch Man

Chef Bill Telepan gives New York city schools a healthy makeover.

Author Kirsten Matthew Photography Erin Giunta

Image – Erin Giunta


MISSION: To replace processed foods with healthy, hearty options in all 1,700 New York City public schools. Telepan, chef and owner of an eponymous eatery on the Upper West Side, became the executive chef of Wellness in the Schools—a nonprofit dedicated to improving conditions in public schools—in 2008, after a visit to his daughter’s school. The organization has installed salad bars in 19 schools and recruited 60 culinary school graduates and chefs to help Telepan teach cafeteria employees and students how to cook well and eat right. “There’ve been a lot of obstacles for us,” he says. “But the end result is fabulous.”

MOTIVATION: Telepan didn’t realize just how bad the school meals were until he took a look inside a cafeteria. “I knew it was kind of gross…I always made my daughter lunches so I could control what she was eating, but I didn’t really understand. There’s sodium, fillers and sugar in everything.” Now kids enrolled in the participating schools are feasting on pesto made from scratch and salads with freshly made dressings instead of chicken fingers and chocolate milk. “The kids give you instant feedback,” Telepan says. “‘Oh man,’ they say, ‘that’s the best chili ever. I can’t wait to tell my mom.’”

YOU GOTTA HAVE FRIENDS: This year Telepan has recruited fellow chefs Zak Pelachio, Jonathon Waxman and others to sponsor individual schools. Since October the cooks have hosted café days (when they show up and cook a new menu for teachers and students), started school vegetable gardens and auctioned off their culinary skills to raise funds for the program. “The goal is to hit fifty schools next year, and all of them in the next few,” explains Telepan. “You gotta go big!” Another friend of Telepan’s is the New York office of SchoolFood.  Telepan adds, “Our program would never have the success it has had without a strong partnership with a very open-minded and progressive school food system like the one in New York City. They have opened up their kitchens and asked us to help implement their goals of adding salad bars and eliminating processed food. New York is a model for the rest of the country, showing how a public/private partnership can work.”

For more information go to www.wellnessintheschools.org.

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