Schools end tough year with a blast of culinary creativity - CulinArt Group

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Schools end tough year with a blast of culinary creativity

June 16, 2021—CulinArt independent school dining services teams in the Northeast broke out of their year-long COVID-19 constraints with a flurry of end-of-academic-year catering activities that clearly showed they haven’t lost a step when it comes to culinary creativity.

Rumsey Hall School in Washington, Conn., The Forman School in Litchfield, Conn., and the Cambridge School of Weston (Mass.), all opened and welcomed students to campus back in August and September 2020. They did so, as reported in the CulinArt COVID-19 Update (a precursor to today’s Connect), with one overriding goal in mind: to feed students while keeping them and our staff members safe and protected. Food was still important, but masks, Plexiglas, distance decals and to-go containers ruled the day.

Prevention of COVID-19 is still a presence at these and other locations. But as these events—including commencements, luncheons, staff parties and more—showed, it was time to get back to the business of putting food front-and-center in their execution.

CSW kicked things off on June 2 with a Beach-themed Senior Night, attended by 120 seniors and faculty. “The campus resembled a beach atmosphere in many ways,” says Dir. of Dining Services Tony Penezic, “except there were no bathing suits allowed! It was fun to do—colorful, happy ambiance with good weather, music, and the food and drinks.” Dinner consisted of kebabs (chicken and veggie), burgers (meat and meatless), hot dogs, corn on the cob, pesto pasta and garden salads, curly fries, and assorted sushi.

5 hours, 150 cupcakes

Strawberry daiquiris (non-alcoholic, of course) were served in “tropical cocktail” fashion, while desserts included pineapple and watermelon pops. Beach Cupcakes featured sand and water frosting (ground Graham crackers and blue icing), a buoy (Lifesaver), and either a starfish, seahorse, clamshell or umbrella. Sounds tedious? “It took me five hours to make 150 of them,” Penezic says. “The client and especially the kids were very happy, and I am sure that our outdoor and indoor food and beverage stations contributed to creating a fun atmosphere.”

A week later the CSW team prepared a Faculty and Staff Appreciation Lunch whose menu could have been mistaken for that of a wedding or state dinner: seared Norwegian salmon, Statler Chicken Provencal, vegan quinoa cakes, roasted fingerling potatoes, herbed Israeli cous cous, roasted asparagus (green, white and purple), and a Power Greens salad, not to mention red velvet, lemon meringue, and other cupcakes.

For the chicken dish, Penezic got particularly creative. Whereas chicken Provencal uses a whole chicken, he marinated the “airliner” breast with herbes de Provence, fresh garlic and lemon overnight. He gave it a quick sear on the griddle the next day, then oven-roasted the 85 or so servings with artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes and a number of Mediterranean staple ingredients: capers, Sicilian olives, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil, finished with fresh parsley, oregano, rosemary, sea salt, and black pepper. Faculty dining will never be the same!

A cut above

Not to be outdone, the Rumsey Hall Faculty Party enjoyed not just good weather, but a food offering considered a cut above. The party’s South of the Border menu featured a 7-layer Mexican dip and spicy gazpacho shrimp for starters, Tex Max caviar, a radicchio and Bibb lettuce salad with cilantro ginger dressing, Mexican street corn, creamy Mexican fruit salad, churros, and zangos—deep-fried cheesecake with caramel and banana wrapped in a tortilla and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

No entrees? “We were asked to provide appetizers and desserts to accompany a taco truck [the school] rented,” says Maryann Pierzga, FSD, adding, “our food was better!” It would be tough to disagree with her: the Texas Caviar featured black and pinto beans, red and green peppers, corn, red onion, Jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, scallions, olive oil and fresh lime juice, while the fruit salad contained cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, and pineapple drowning in condensed milk, sour cream and honey, garnished with shredded coconut and cinnamon. Take that, taco truck!

For its faculty party, Forman turned back the clock to stage a Roaring 20s–themed soiree, complete with Prohibition-era cocktails such as Sidecar and Bee’s Knees. “The client wanted an elaborate menu, cheese table, passed appetizers, and the signature drinks,” explains Denee Danner, CulinArt’s FSD. And “elaborate” the menu was: swordfish, Statler chicken, filet mignon, roasted potato rounds, roasted beet and goat cheese greens, and tri-colored, local-honey-glazed carrots. “The weather was perfect, and all guests dined al fresca,” Danner adds.

Elevating grab-and-go

Even when portability was necessary, such as for graduation ceremonies, the CulinArt teams poured their all into crafting grab-and-go lunches that should be considered anything but ordinary. Rumsey’s event—“one of our first since 2020,” Pierzga says—was staged with social distancing in mind as a Picnic Lunch, complete with school tote bags stuffed with a school picnic blanket, sparkling cider and Champagne flutes.

Each graduate was given one tote bag to share with up to four guests. Foods from which to select their picnic lunch included beef tenderloin on brioche with horseradish sauce and arugula, chicken Caesar salad, and tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella wraps; gemelli pasta salad; fruit salad; chips; and, of course, Rumsey cookies. Groups had the choice of enjoying lunch picnic-style under the commencement tent, Pierzga notes, or at tables under a smaller tent nearby.

At Forman, which decided to forego the usual buffet open to all graduates, families, faculty and staff, the CulinArt team led by Chef Darby Fitzgerald prepared no less than 600 Bento boxes featuring a cheese platter, dried and fresh fruit, and handmade lemon zest rosemary pita. “It was important to [administration] that we had a ‘hearty snack’ that everyone could enjoy, but it had to be grab-and-go,” explains Danner, while some were prepared for those avoiding gluten and dairy and all came with a box of homemade cookies.

And then there was Dessert Night at Forman, just one of various events geared toward making the seniors feel special before their departure, according to Danner. Desserts included chocolate fudge eclairs, raspberry cheesecakes, cannoli, assorted meringues, and cupcakes (red velvet, orange cream, and lemon). Dessert Night was a tradition at Danner’s previous account and she hopes to make it a Forman tradition.

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  • June 16, 2021
Corporate News


What our clients are saying

“What a wonderful dinner we had tonight for our international families. The food was delicious and well presented as well.”

“Thank you for including me today in the food waste demonstration/[chef competition] and flattering me with the role of “judge.” I will proudly don the [Stop Food Waste Day] apron the next time I plan an “event” in our own kitchen. I think this is a very worthwhile cause and the statistics you read off are staggering. They, alone, can intimidate a home chef, let alone be the “driver’ for a professional one.”

“Thank you and your staff for all the care and thought you give CSW adults and students. You approach events with such care and elegance- I don’t know how you do it! Especially day after day. Please thank all your staff for their wonderful work and kind manner with all of us. Here is to a great year!”

“Many, and I do mean many, thanks for a great Parents Weekend.  I heard from so many happy parents and you all work very hard to make it happen.  In gratitude and kindness…”

“We are so thankful and so impressed by your immediate attention to our power outage. It was such a relief to see all the equipment and workers coming in within a few hours of the outage. Thank you for serving dinner to all [the] students in a very difficult circumstance. Please extend our thanks to your workers who braved cold weather to grill hamburgers and hotdogs.”

“With all the prep work from Winterim ramping up and classes continuing as usual, it's a busy time to be a Forman teacher. Imagine my delight, tired as I was, when I delved into the upscale-restaurant-quality chicken parmesan our dining hall served last night. Forman is all about support, and providing our students with a dinner of that quality is just as important a measure of support as anything that happens in a classroom.”

“I can’t thank your entire team enough for the outstanding service, food, displays, everything!  You are a master at detail, and because of that Adam and I were able to focus on the parents.  I know what a sacrifice pulling off a weekend like this means, we are so appreciative and grateful to you all for your talent and generosity.”

“I ALWAYS feel spoiled by the meal offerings at CSW (The Cambridge School of Weston) and am entirely grateful for it. As I eat today's delicious and lavish lunch (and think about yesterday's as well), I can't tell you how much I feel so well cared for here, both with the food and by the dining hall staff. CSW cares for us in so many ways, both big and small.”

“Thank You! Chef Budd [and team], you overcame a new online ordering system (and hundreds of labels daily!), provided creative and healthy menus, continued to connect with local farmers to incorporate locally sourced ingredients, and worked tirelessly to serve the school community on three campuses.  While it feels like you are all a little like the Wizard of Oz right now, working behind a curtain in a kitchen far away, we sense your smiles and your passion to deliver the best possible service during these trying times. We are all so grateful!”

“I will say that CulinArt has always been a very collaborative partner to T. Rowe Price, listening to our current needs and future goals and suggesting realistic and achievable strategies to meet those goals.  2020 was obviously no exception.  CulinArt also altered other areas of our OCS and pantry programs to create safer environments for all our associates. We can only thank you for your continued flexibility and innovative ideas through these difficult times.”

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