BVSD’s newly opened Culinary Center will cook scratch-made meals for current and future generations of students
“It ought to be a birthright for every child, every day, to have healthy food in school,” says Ann Cooper, Food Services Director at BVSD. “This new centralized production facility gives us the space and equipment to make that a reality for BVSD students.”
Technology is integrated throughout the facility to boost safety and efficiency. One new feature is the cook-chill system which includes giant kettles to cook in, and a connected system which allows the food to be portioned and sealed automatically then moved to a chill tank to rapidly drop the temperature for food safety. It increases efficiency while cooking high-quality food that can be safely stored while maintaining the highest standards with no artificial preservatives or additives.
“We believe that for a child to learn, think and be the best they can be, they have to eat well. That’s why we scratch cook,” says Cooper. “What that means is cooking with raw ingredients. It’s not individually wrapped, it’s not processed, it’s cooked from scratch, which means we know exactly what is going into the food.”
While the COVID pandemic postponed plans for a grand opening of the building this past September, it hasn’t stopped the Food Services team from breaking in the new 33,000-square-foot facility.
“We’ve definitely already gotten our hands and aprons dirty by cooking thousands of meals with the new equipment,” says Stephen Menyhart, Food Services Operations Manager. “This building and its cutting edge equipment helps us improve the quality, consistency and efficiency of our meals.”
The building has already been heralded by industry groups for its state-of-the-art design and cost-saving efficiencies. Named a “2020 Innovator” award-winner by Foodservice Equipment Reports magazine, the space was also recently profiled in the September issue of Foodservice Equipment & Supplies magazine.
Several features of the building support the district’s dedication to partnering with local farmers and regional purveyors of fresh, whole foods. In addition to the large bay for semi-trucks who make commercial deliveries, the building was outfitted with a delivery door designed to meet the needs of local farmers’ smaller trucks and vans that transport their deliveries. The 6,000 square feet of warehouse storage allow the district to buy in bulk and store local crops in cold storage—a benefit to smaller farms that often don’t have storage capacity. A dedicated produce washing room hosts equipment designed to thoroughly clean and handle fruits and vegetables—from everything as hardy as a beet to as delicate as a strawberry—so farmers don’t have to.
The Culinary Center replaces the district’s three regional production kitchens, which were located at Casey Middle, Centaurus High and Monarch High. While these kitchens have served well in the district’s transition to scratch-cooked food, the retro-fitted facilities have presented challenges. Scratch-cooked food requires more space for food prep and storage of fresh ingredients, which was often lacking in the school kitchens. Preparing meals was a well-choreographed dance of moving trays of ingredients from one location to another, all while maintaining proper food safety temperatures. Consolidating these three into one is expected to yield a future annual reduction in labor costs. In a typical school year, the space will produce 14,000 to 17,000 scratch-cooked meals each day. This school year, the space is being used to produce meals when in-person learning occurs, as well as the production of bags for the Food Distribution Program on Mondays.
The $16.4 million Culinary Center was funded as part of the district’s Building for Student Success facility improvement program approved by voters in 2014. It is located near the BVSD Education Center at 6500 Arapahoe Rd.
“Twelve years ago we really thought into the future about what it would take to have the best food service operations that we could,” says Cooper. “One of the things we said was that we should have a central production facility. It’s amazing to get to see its doors open after all of the hard work and generous support that made it a reality.”
Watch this video about the Culinary Center to get a sneak peek into the new facility.