In a speed-scratch setup that allows students to craft their own bowls, the Academies of Loudoun, a large high school in Leesburg, Va., is the first of Loudoun Co. Public Schools (LCPS) to introduce Café + Teria, a pick-and-choose concept that appeals to high school students’ love of fast-casual customization.
“Students can go in and truly customize it,” says Stefanie Dove, coordinator of marketing and outreach for LCPS. “We’ve been studying the Gen Z consumer, and they want that level of customization; they really like the concept of picking your base, then picking your protein. So, this is a great way to launch into a customizable, fast-casual experience.”
The concept comes from Cuisine Solutions, a local company that manufactures sous vide foods and has been a leading researcher in the technique in which foods are vacuum-sealed, then slow cooked in hot water. Sous vide fans praise the steady temperature, which retains nutrients, flavor and moisture, and Loudoun Schools has partnered with them for pre-cooked proteins for a couple of years already.
“Cuisine Solutions has worked hard to understand the school nutrition business and has been a valuable partner in our work to bring fresher, speed-scratch items into our schools,” says Dr. Becky Domokos-Bays, LCPS nutrition services director.
But the students aren’t as interested in sous vide cooking as they are in creating, for example, their own version of a Thai chicken chili rice bowl with shredded carrots and hot sauce.
Each day, an international cuisine—Mediterranean, Mexican, Asian—is the starting point, and from there, students choose their base: rice, whole-grain pasta, lettuce, tortilla wrap or flatbread; then their protein: beef, chicken or paneer cheese, all of which have been seasoned for that day’s theme; and finally sauces and an array of fresh veggies to top it off.
The paneer cheese, firm, mild and adaptable to any seasoning, is already used throughout the district as a vegetarian protein. The beef and chicken are cooked sous vide, then delivered by the case to the kitchen, where staff has been trained on how to reheat. (The district doesn’t use any raw meat, anywhere.)
The proteins provide the perfect base for anything from a beef fajita bowl to a paneer curry bowl to a Jerk chicken rice bowl and more, with each theme offering room to add personal touches, like guacamole or the district’s version of Thai peanut sauce (made with sunflower seed butter, since they’ve gone peanut free).
Café + Teria had piloted at three nearby high schools in a different district last year, and Dove felt that the time was right to introduce the concept at the Academies of Loudoun, a high school in a new, 300,000-sq. ft. facility with 1,600 students and an open-concept service area, making it the perfect spot for the trendy new concept.
“It’s all in how you present it,” Dove says, referring to the modern, bright, clean looking marketing materials and signage that goes with the concept, which is slated to open in more of the district’s schools, perhaps next year.
“We’re a very large district and we like to get things right and flush out all the kinks that come along with any new menu concept,” Dove says. “But so far, students are loving it.”