November 23, 2005 - Along with a thick accent, worldwide experience and a kitchen agenda, French-born chef Claude Chatelain has brought his culinary expertise to the Catalina Foothills School District.

For the last two weeks, Chatelain, 42, has been settling into his role as the new food services director for the CFSD. Chatelain is responsible for the menus, employees and all kitchen services for two elementary schools, two middle schools and the high school.

"I'm extremely pleased to work here," he said.

Growing up in Versailles, France, Chatelain studied and received his degree in hotel management. His career took him all around France, Brazil and Greece.

While working with high school students may be different than working for major international hotel chains, Chatelain said he is ready for the challenge.

"I was very interested in working with kids," he said.

Being the father of an 11-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy, Chatelain knows too well the poor eating habits of youth. That is why he started teaching his children at an early age to eat healthy meals and not to load up on junk food.

It is that lesson he hopes to instill in students in the Catalina Foothills School District.

Associate Superintendent Terry Downey couldn't agree more.

She has spent many days at the district's cafeteria and has witnessed firsthand the food typically selected by students.

She remembers just a few weeks ago spending an afternoon at the high school and seeing student after student filing a plate with nothing but french fries.

"That certainly wasn't what I wanted to see," she said.

After that day she went back to the district office and decided a change was needed.

The foothills school district became proactive in changing the way students view cafeteria food.

Nationwide, Downey said, cafeterias are struggling with how to offer better food choices for students, while serving food they will enjoy, she said.

This year, the district adopted a new color code system. The corresponding color depicts what food selection is the healthiest. "Junk food committees" also have been created, bringing students together to discuss cafeteria menus and the changes that should be made to bring healthier foods to campus.

Such measures are ways to get students to eat healthier, she said.

"We should be focusing more attention on this," she said.

That is where she hopes Chatelain will come in. Under his reign, menu changes will be implemented, offering students more food choices, she said.

Catalina Foothills High School offers students more choices then the French bread pizza and chef salads of their parents' school days.

Each day, students can choose from al a carte menu selections. Each item is sold independently, allowing students more of an individualized eating experience, Chatelain said.

It is easy to see the different stations for culinary fare in the high school's cafeteria.

The Crossroads Café offers BBQ chicken pizza on Mondays, and meat-lovers, chicken ranch and Hawaiian pizza the following days.

Gone are the hair-net elderly lunch ladies using ice-cream scoops to dish out mashed potatoes. Students can pick from the salsa station, or opt for more of an exotic flare at the themed cuisine area of the cafeteria.

Even with the variety of food, fresh salads, fruit and vegetables, Chatelain is certain students aren't eating enough healthy food.

"We need to educate them, let them know that there is other food out there they can enjoy, he said.

One of the most popular items served daily at the high school is the outside grilled barbeque. Each day the coils are fired up and students wait for the smoky grilled cuisine.

Barbeque grilled selections may not be the worst food a student can eat. Chatelain wants to get students eating more fish. He wants the students to eat food and enjoy foods they may have assumed they hated, such as salmon.

In his new position, he wants students to realize, "There's not just chicken fingers and cheeseburgers to eat," he said.

So he will introduce more fish and healthier options. He admits he hasn't decided exactly what he will implement, because of his limited time on the campus. But the wheels inside his head are turning and the changes should be coming soon, he said.

CFHS Principal Wagner Van Vlack was not part of the interview process with Chatelain, but he is certain the new food service manager will bring great things to the district's culinary tables.

"We're lucky to have Claude," he said.

With Chatelain's worldwide kitchen management experience, Van Vlack said he will be a welcome addition to the campus and the district.

"We look forward to this new chapter," he said.

And for Chatelain, he just hopes students enjoy the upcoming changes in menu selections. But no matter what happens, he is having fun in the place he loves to be, the kitchen.

"It's like a picnic everyday," he said.

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