COLUMBIA — Meet Bradley Faith. He goes by Brad, and he’s the newly hired chef at Columbia Public Schools.
Faith will plan and test new recipes for lunch at elementary and middle schools this year as part of a goal to bring healthier food to students and transition lunch menus to the new USDA guidelines. The district's Nutrition Services Department has already ordered more raw and less-processed foods in place of past ready-to-go commodities.
But the team wants a chef's vision.
Also, schools need someone to coordinate catering from central kitchens to schools with small kitchens. Nutrition Services wants the new dining program designed and running efficiently by spring 2014.
Faith attended culinary school at the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, which is now part of Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts. He has worked various chef jobs, including at Kirk’s Bistro, in Portland, Ore., in 1998 and off-and-on executive chef at The Upper Crust in Columbia from 2003 to 2008. Until last month, he worked as executive chef at the Columbia Country Club.
Faith moved to Columbia in 2003 with his wife, Dena Faith. They have two children, Isaac, 5, and Anabelle, 2.
After starting work Oct. 27, he sat down to talk a little about his life and lunch plans for the public schools. His answers in some cases are drawn from two interviews.
Q: How is cooking for kids different from cooking for adults?
Kids are more picky. Kids know what they like. Introducing new foods to them has to be fun for them. Kids like to make a lot of decisions on their own terms. It’s about getting them involved and letting them choose. I find that kids who are involved in making their own foods tend to be more happy to eat them. Since we’re going to be cooking more scratch foods, fresh foods, foods they maybe haven’t eaten before, we’re going to have to get them involved.
Q: How will you get children involved?
My intention is to visit each school at lunch period and sit down with the kids and pick their brains. It’s important for me to talk to the people who eat my foods. Kids will be more open to eating new foods if they feel their opinion matters. I love kids, and I think it will mean a lot to parents too to learn that the person who is going to provide breakfast and lunch isn’t too proud to sit down with (their kids) and ask what they want. That’s the most important to me, to give kids what they want while bringing them healthier foods. As a parent I understand the burden that parents go through in packing lunches or buying food at school.
Once we get rolling, I will try and offer cooking classes for kids and their parents. Also, if it can be done, we will try to start gardens at the schools so kids can become more familiar with how their food grows and what is involved with that. Field trips to local farms may occur as well. These are ideas that are in my head. It just depends on how much the public supports them and who's willing to support them.
Q: What do you like to eat with your family?
The best foods to eat are the foods my kids will eat hassle-free. Fortunately, my kids love veggies. Spaghetti always goes well. My kids enjoy slurping the long noodles, imitating their father per se.
My kids will eat well if it’s fun. As a parent, I have the responsibility to make sure my kids eat well and not just what they want. Fortunately, my kids have eclectic taste in food. Growing up, I was never familiar with feta cheese, Kalamata olives or even Asian foods. Columbia has a much more diverse community than my rural northwestern Pennsylvania town had, so they have much more exposure to different foods than I had.
Q: Did you cook when you were a kid?
I was always helping with dinner, whether it was mashing potatoes, making gravy, preparing salads or even baking and icing cake. It reached a point where my role became less of a secondary and more of a primary role. I didn’t have a problem going out to cook the steaks. Not that I didn’t like my mom’s cooking, but my mom and dad were medium-well cookers, and I liked medium rare. I essentially volunteered to do the cooking to suit my own tastes.
Q: How did you decide to become a chef?
I always leaned toward your hands-on type of work. (Post high school) I wanted to get in and get on with it. I did my two years of time (in culinary school). I didn’t want to be shackled with a bunch of school loans and stuff like that. But I did like cooking. I watched a lot of cooking shows on TV. There was a guy named Pasquale with a floppy red hat and a white necktie. He loved to sing while he cooked. I don't sing opera, but I do like to sing out loud. I have a penchant for singing a song and changing the lyrics. Let's say there's a cook who's in a bad mood — I'll sing them a song and cheer them up.
Q: What is your favorite dessert?
I think a lot of people’s favorites things would trace back to something they had in their childhoods, and I think I would have to say strawberry shortcake. My mom used to make strawberry shortcake, and there’s nothing better than fresh crushed strawberries, warm short cake and cool whipped cream.