Chefs are the backbone of so much of the work we do. Whether it’s culinary events that raise critical funds, our nutrition education programs that teach low-income families how to shop and eat on a budget, or even lobbying on Capitol Hill on behalf of hungry kids, chefs are some of our most dedicated volunteers and advocates.
We want to introduce our community to more of these chefs, so we’re starting an ongoing interview series that features these chef advocates. The next in our series is Robert Rusan, who has been working with Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters since early 2012. That’s when he teamed up with Barbara Keen, RD, from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to teach Cooking Matters for Child Care Professionals courses in St. Louis.
Chef Robert is the chef for Maplewood Richmond Heights School District in St. Louis. You won’t find a deep-fat fryer in his kitchen nor chicken nuggets on the menu, but he has won over students and staff alike with homemade soups, creative entrees and salad bar options using many local and school-grown foods, even house-made yogurt and mozzarella cheese.
How did you become involved with Share Our Strength (Cooking Matters) original
I had taught some Farm to School workshop classes for Mickey Belosi, a field supervisor for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. She asked me if I would be interested in teaching other workshop classes. Mickey introduced me to Barbara Keen (RD) from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The rest is history.
Why is ending childhood hunger important to you?
You might say it’s in my bloodline; both sets of my grandparents had open house serving meals for less fortunate kids and adults in our neighborhood. I am a firm believer in “do unto others as you would have them do to you.” I’ve never been hungry from not having access to food. With all the food produced in our society no one should go hungry. So I am trying to practice what I preach.
Why are you so excited about teaching Cooking Matters for Child Care Professionals courses?
It is a great opportunity for me to share what was shared with me. It makes me feel good to help get rid of the stigma that goes with being hungry.
Why is it important to expose kids to lots of new foods when they’re young?
Introducing them to as great a variety of foods as possible helps educate and broaden their horizons. Kids learn at early age to accept the different flavors and texture of food. This is where one starts to learn how to eat a balanced meal. Gaining the knowledge of what role each food category plays in helping their bodies grow properly.
If you had free reign to reform the food in school meal/lunch programs, what would you do?
I would try to do a similar task that the USDA is doing. Focusing on introducing the variety available in all the food groups. I would not put the serving amount based on age or class. I would instead put more focus on; eat what “your” body “needs” to sustain your own physical needs. For example if you own three different horses, a draft horse, a pony, and a race horse. They are all fed different amounts and diets, because of their sizes and their life styles. This would be pretty much the same with people.
Chefs know more about feeding people than just about anyone. What is the secret to preparing meals that are healthy, affordable, and acceptable to kids?
Eye appeal, aromatics, right texture(s), and most of all FLAVOR.
What’s the best meal you’ve had in recent memory?
Hmmm!! Too many to decide from. From a meal I had in Vegas at a casino, to a tavern in Buffalo New York or a meal I had on small cruise ship in Virginia Beach. Then there are my Family Dinners.
Why did you become a chef?
It all started from me growing up in a family catering business.
What chefs do you admire?
My Mom Martha, Grandmothers Nora and Lucille and Aunt Della. Then there is Harry Nall, a great butcher and grill master.
What ingredients will we always find in your kitchen?
A variety of spices, including salts and peppers.
What is your favorite aspect of being a chef?
Being able to see and hear the wonderful expressions of people as they partake in the food that I prepared.
What is your favorite cheap eat?
Peanuts, salsa and chips.
Chef Robert shares his awesome stress-busting technique here.