Bon Appétit’s Food Education Team Poised to Unite People with Love of Food Literacy
- by Peter Todaro
Bon Appétit has always worked to educate students, corporate employees, and kids about sustainability and nutrition issues in fun and interactive ways.
Our teams host cooking classes about everything from basic knife skills to making the perfect homemade pizza. Our national team of registered dietitian nutritionists has created a monthly nutrition education program called Food for Your Well-Being, a performance nutrition program for student athletes, and an entire teaching kitchen curriculum focused on healthy cooking. Innovative programs like the Bon Appétit Fellows have connected college students with key food systems issues while Healthy Kids in the Bon Appétit Kitchen has introduced kids to the power of vibrant fruits and vegetables through hands-on cooking and garden activities. Now, Bon Appétit’s newly formed Food Education Team is poised to take food literacy to the next level in our cafés and in the communities we serve. Before we look toward the future, let’s start with a little bit of history.
A Cascade of Connections
In 2009, Bon Appétit created a first-of-its-kind Fellowship program, which brought recent graduates of Bon Appétit-served schools onto the corporate team. Fellows are tasked with conducting research, and over the years have focused on defining fair farm labor, reducing food waste and starting food recovery programs, creating a network of student gardeners and farmers at colleges around the country, and much more. And while Bon Appétit chefs and managers had long prioritized educating their guests about food and sustainability, the Bon Appétit Fellowship took engagement to the next level. Over the last 13 years, Fellows have organized countless kitchen tours, guest lectures in classrooms, visits to Farm to Fork vendors, and meetings with key stakeholders on campuses that Bon Appétit serves.
Fellows’ responsibilities expanded in 2016 with the launch of Bon Appétit’s Healthy Kids in the Bon Appétit Kitchen program.
Started as an outdoor, garden-based culinary education program for children at Oracle Park (at the time AT&T Park), the home of the San Francisco Giants, the program includes lessons on where food comes from, healthy eating, and cooking. Activities for kids include a fruit and vegetable naming game, tasting seasonal produce, and making tasty (while still healthy) recipes such as a kale and banana smoothies, or vegetable kabobs, all with kid-safe knives and equipment.
Healthy Kids was an overnight success, and quickly expanded to Bon Appétit accounts across the country. From California to Maine, Bon Appétit chefs and Healthy Kids instructors have made food literacy fun and exciting for the kids of community members, faculty, staff, and corporate employees.
With Fellows integrating Healthy Kids classes in their repertoire of on-campus events and activities, opportunities expanded for Fellows to visit corporate headquarters, too. The success of the Fellowship and Healthy Kids created a cascade of connections and collaboration with the communities that Bon Appétit serves.
A Challenge and an Opportunity
With the onset of COVID-19, the food service industry was hit hard, and for a while, in-person activities and visits to campuses seemed out of the question. But as the world slowly reemerged from the worst of the pandemic, the Fellows program and Healthy Kids began to come back into focus. This period also gave Chief Strategy and Brand Officer Maisie Ganzler a chance to think about how both programs should come back and adapt to a new reality.
Maisie decided to bundle together Bon Appétit’s most interactive food literacy programs by uniting both the Fellows and Healthy Kids under a newly created Food Education team, led by Manager of Food Education Kristina Todini, RDN. Kristina’s experience in the food system is multi-faceted to say the least. Prior to joining Bon Appétit’s corporate wellness team in 2017, Kristina got to experience the food system from a wide variety of different angles, working as a food service worker, supply chain director, agriculture marketing manager, food photographer, and Registered Dietitian. “I’ve never had a job that wasn’t involved with food in some way,” says Kristina. This multi-disciplinary approach to the food system serves Kristina well as she oversees two new Fellows, Elise Dudley and Elise Kuhler, as well as Healthy Kids Program Coordinator, National Marketing Specialist, and jack-of-all-trades Nina Abramson.
With Bon Appétit-served schools, corporate headquarters, and specialty venues almost entirely open in some format, the new Food Education Team is springing into action, planning slates of in-person events, activities, and Healthy Kids classes – in addition to a slew of new virtual culinary and wellness education offerings. For Kristina, this time represents a chance for her team to pass along a holistic understanding of the food system to Bon Appétit’s guests. “It’s all about meeting the guest where they’re at,” says Kristina. “We share our knowledge and reverence for food, whether we’re teaching children about the parts of a plant, getting our hands dirty in campus garden with students, or leading virtual cooking classes with our corporate clients.”
As the Food Education team has come together and the world has opened back up, new synergies have emerged. In addition to their robust online culinary and wellness education campaigns, Nina and Kristina are in the process of creating an entirely new curriculum called Healthy College Students in the Bon Appétit Kitchen, adapting the fun and good-for-you tips and tricks of Healthy Kids to a new audience. Fellows are once again visiting schools, with Elise Dudley and Elise Kuhler speaking in classes and re-engaging with students, many of whom may not know just how much work Bon Appétit does to create food service for a sustainable future.