Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution premieres March 26, but insiders know that New York has its own three-star champion of healthier school lunches, and he’s about to march on Washington. When not running his eponymous locavore restaurant on the Upper West Side, Bill Telepan acts as head chef to Wellness in the Schools, a program anchored around green cleaning supplies, recess sports, and the Wellness Café. Last fall, Edible Manhattan profiled Telepan, whose Wellness role ranges from weekly cooking stints in public schools to efforts to retrain kitchen staffs. Volunteering helps—the project began in three schools in 2005. “Now we’re in eight with 40 volunteers, four sous-chefs, and two coordinators to keep it going”—but the schools need more money from above. José Andrés hinted that the time nears for chefs to take action, and we now know that time happens to be next Wednesday.
Telepan and Andrés recruited chefs including Commerce’s Harold Moore and the Cleaver Company’s Mary Cleaver in New York’s, and Ken Oringer in Boston for Chef's Day of Action. The chef credits the idea to a meeting with City Harvest’s Kristen Mancinelli and Senator Gillibrand, explaining that the chefs will reach out to senators in their respective states to support the re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act and demand, oh, “Five billion a year in addition to what [schools are] getting. When you take away labor and administrative costs, there’s 94 cents per child,” says Telepan. The goal is “more local products, to move away from beef with additives, and training; the cooks don’t cook, they open boxes and reheat stuff.” Finding real food is the hardest part of his work. He's seen barbecue sauce made from grape jelly and ketchup, and most of the beef contains ten to 20 additives. None is fresh.
The money would help expansion but Wellness already has bigger plans for next year, focusing on 20 schools and three elements: "teach the cooks in the kitchen to cook from scratch, cooking classes with the kids, cooking classes for parents and teachers." Ten of the schools will pay the program $10,000 for upkeep and ten high-poverty locations will be pro bono. He needs chefs for that phase and Seamus Mullan and Marco Canora have pledged their time. Plus, the group may get a boost from that visiting Brit and his press junket after all. Jamie Oliver scheduled a meeting with Telepan for this Friday. It’s not all thankless work though. For the D.C. trip, the crew convenes at Andres’ Oyamel. We guarantee their pep rally won’t serve cold pizza.
Plus, while Telepan attempts to huddle with Schumer and Rangel, he will have the extra luck of the Irish. "They might be all liquored up because it’s Saint Patty’s day. We figure, get them while they’re weak."