Cincinnati chef tasked with making lunch… for $1.25

By  – Reporter, Cincinnati Business Courier


A Greater Cincinnati chef was asked to make a healthy school lunch that kids would actually eat, and to do it for only $1.25 per student. He won second place in a national competition with his recipe.

Stephen Williams, chef-owner of Bouquet at 519 Main St. in Covington, was approached by the Chef Ann Foundation, a national group advocating for healthy school lunches, to enter into a competition asking renowned chefs to create palatable and nutritious recipes for school lunchrooms. It was the group’s first-ever Real School Food Challenge.

“Everyone’s gone through grade school and had the pretty crappy school lunch and when you really dissect it and see what it’s made, there’s really no nutritional value there,” Williams told me.

So he went to a staple of children everywhere: spaghetti and meatballs. But these weren’t regular spaghetti and meatballs. Williams snuck some healthy stuff in there in stealth mode.

The meatballs were made with beef, but then instead of nutritionless filler like bread crumbs he used zucchini and other squash. The tomato sauce was thickened with spinach instead of cooking it down. And instead of being served over spaghetti made with bleached flour, it was served on top of whole wheat spaghetti.

“My wife is a holistic nutritionist and our children eat that way,” he said. “We had to come up with a school lunch that children want to eat. It’s not like I’m putting a Bouquet small plate in front of a kid – that’s not going to fly. At the same time, we had to do something school lunch staff could also pull off quick and simple.”

The hardest part was staying in the $1.25 budget per kid. Every federally funded school gets $5 per child to feed students, and half of that goes to labor and overhead with another $1.25 to the beverage and fruit for each meal.

Williams presented his spaghetti and meatballs at a dinner-by-the-bite at the StarChefs International Chef’s Congress at the Brooklyn Expo Center on Oct. 28. There were 12 chefs presenting their kid-friendly dishes, and Williams was the runner-up to a Japanese chicken curry rice.