Sometimes the higher tech a school district’s foodservice goes—combi ovens that can be programmed—the more homestyle and slow-food centric the cooking can get. It’s a delicious and efficient paradox at work at San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), where 28 high-tech combi ovens roast, sear, cool and hold turkey at a safe temperature until it’s ready to be shredded and portioned.
Photo: San Diego Unified School District’s Juan Zamorano spent a year testing and re-testing this turkey method.
On average, Juan Zamorano, SDUSD’s food and nutrition services program specialist, and crew roast 8,000 pounds of turkey using this method, which was implemented over a year of testing and tweaking as part of a larger move toward more scratch-cooked meals for students and staff.
Putting new systems into place, like the overnight turkey roasting program, takes teamwork for a district of this size, Zamorano says.
“My boss, Fred Espinoza, has a ‘sell it don’t tell it’ approach to the introduction of new products and the implementation of new ideas,” he says. “Many times, we introduce an item at a managers’ meeting to get buy-in from our supervisors and area supervisors.”
Photo: Programmable combi ovens make SDUSD’s overnight roasting program possible.
After getting buy-in, testing and evaluation are a vital. Zamorano makes a series of site visits and serves new products to cooks, explaining the cooking process, “not a hard thing to do when you have a plan and a great team like we do,” he says. “It’s been the unwavering commitment from my boss to do more scratch cooking and that was the driving force behind the implementation of our overnight roasting program.”
This program makes use of USDA ready-to-cook turkey roasts that arrive frozen in cases of 8 to 12-pound roasts. Into the combi ovens they go, and Zamorano rests easy that night, knowing that his planning and the technology available have combined for a great school lunch the next day.
Photo: After turkey is slow cooked to tender, shred-ready perfection in San Diego schools’ kitchens, all that’s needed is a sturdy whisk to pull it apart into portions.
After the turkeys are cooked to an internal temperature of 170°F, “so that any connective tissue will break down easily,” Zamorano says, “all we have to do is use a sturdy whisk and the turkey will shred almost effortlessly. It’s like magic!”
And turkey isn’t the only protein that can benefit from the overnight cooking process. St. Louis-style pork ribs and roasted pork shoulder have also worked well. Right now, Zamorano is testing overnight roasted beef chuck roll at a few sites and “it’s been a big hit,” he says, adding that he plans to create a guide on the turkey method that he’ll share with other foodservice professionals.
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