Global lunch program exposes Norwalk students to new foods and cultures

NORWALK — Students at one local elementary school have traveled the world to broaden their palates and awareness of other cultures without leaving their cafeteria.

Naramake Elementary School was among nine selected nationwide to participate in a pilot global dining experience program this year. The Global Eats program was offered through Chartwells, which is the food service provider for Norwalk Public Schools, and gave students a taste of foods from Mexico, Italy, India and China.

“This is really taking a deeper dive into more authentic food, so things that they haven't seen,” said Chase Sobelman, the New England regional chef for Chartwells. 

“New menu items will be introduced featuring the unique ingredients and authentic recipes from each featured country that were created in partnership with a series of celebrity chefs who specialize in global cuisines," according to a memo sent to parents before the program started.

While Sobelman said the team aimed for recipes that were as authentic as possible, Food and Drug Administration guidelines for school lunches and other factors impacted their options. One recipe, she said, required tostadas, which were unavailable at the time due to supply chain issues.

“We ended up using a flour tortilla, and one of the students actually pointed out to us that that's not a tostada,” she said. 

“Again, those things are great because it educates them and educates us,” Sobelman continued. “It helps us engage them. It builds trust levels. So now whenever we introduce something, they'll be more apt to try."

The twice-a-week culinary events also included giveaways, tastings of special foods that chefs demonstrated and a passport for the students to fill as they visited each country. 

“I really think the students are enjoying it,” said Jill Kress, food service liaison for Norwalk Public Schools. “I think they like seeing it. I think they liked the passport aspect of it where they get to travel around. … I think they're really liking the diversity and seeing what's out there.”

Kress said the district would like to continue and even expand the program to other schools next year.

Sobelman also said, "any of these recipes can just be incorporated into their weekly menus."

Contact Faith Marnecheck at faith.marnecheck@hearstmediact.com