Cora stumps for healthier school meals

NEW YORK (Reuters) - American chef Cat Cora has been traveling around the United States to raise awareness about nutrition and to promote better school meals as a part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Chefs Move to Schools” campaign.

American chef Cat Cora is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Deborah Bondareff /Handout

The 44-year-old, who lives in California, is also a co-host of a food competition show, “Around the World in 80 Plates,” which is set to debut in May.

She spoke to Reuters about her passion for healthy eating and helping school cafeterias around the U.S.

Q: Why did you get involve in “Chefs Move to Schools”?

A: “It’s really important to get the word out on nutrition education in public schools. I have one son in public school and another one coming up. It’s important to show why it is important to eat healthier and have money go into school lunches and school cafeterias.”

Q: What are the problems with school lunches and cafeterias?

A: “It’s education, but it’s really funding. We know there are problems with the quality of the school lunches. That’s something we all know. It’s getting the school more funding so we could raise the quality of the food that goes on those plates in the cafeterias. The people who are cooking and serving the lunches are just limited by their budgets.”

Q: What activities have you engaged in so far?

A: “When we kicked off ‘Chefs Move to School’ program, her (Obama’s) overall philosophy was for chefs to adopt schools and go into those schools and make changes in a way that really motivates the school system. It’s really us as chefs going around the country being grassroots about it.

“My school is the one that my son goes to, Washington Elementary in Santa Barbara which is practically across the street from where I live. I’ve gone there, done some demos and spoke to the principal. That school doesn’t even have a cafeteria, so it’s talking about how do we build a cafeteria.”

Q: How do you answer critics about why government shouldn’t get so involved in telling children what to eat?

A: “Obviously that’s not happening at home. We see that because we have an obesity epidemic on our hands in the country. That affects everyone. That affects our healthcare system. It affects our economy. So what we have been doing isn’t working. If we do get more funding for nutritional education, we do need to get the government to get involved. It’s very appropriate for the First Lady to get involved. It should be commended that she’s involved. Bringing these chefs together is a brilliant move. She’s brought an army of chefs out there to fight obesity. That’s what we do. We feed and nurture people. Chefs are some of the people that kids look up to these days.”

Q: There is plenty of information on television and the Internet about nutrition and healthy eating. Why don’t we see more people change their unhealthy habits?

A: “It has to be more real for people. I think it’s easy to watch a diet or weight loss or a healthy eating or a healthy cooking show, but not really participate in their own life. I think people want a quick fix. They are busy. They are stressed and they have kids ... There is no quick fix to losing weight and staying healthy. It’s a lifestyle change.”

Truffled Orzo with Asiago Cheese (Serves 4-6)

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 1/3 cups orzo

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons grated Asiago cheese

1 teaspoon truffle oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. In a 4-to6-quart stockpot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil.

2. Add the salt and the orzo, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until the pasta is al dente (or just slightly chewy)

3. In a 10-inch sauté pan, melt the butter.

4. Add the cooked pasta and 3 tablespoons of the Asiago cheese. Drizzle on the truffle oil, sprinkle on the salt, and give it a few cranks of freshly ground pepper. Toss well.

5. Spoon the orzo into a serving bowl, top with the remaining cheese, and serve immediately.

Editing by Patricia Reaney