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Adam Byrne, who normally travels a lot for work, says he has missed experiencing the regional foods of this country and abroad this year. To cope, he uses food to help school communities ‘travel’ around the globe through menu magic.

Stories from the front lines: Flik Independent School Dining chef introduces handheld global street food project to keep K-12 menus adventurous

Division Chef Adam Byrne tells us about Flik’s new International Handheld Street Foods, choosing the right packaging for grab and go and why it’s more important than ever to keep a generous dash of excitement in school menus.

Adam Byrne, division chef with Flik Independent School Dining, believes that since school cafeterias are inside schools, education has got to be baked into everything the foodservice team does. When a global street food project was rolled out recently, Byrne wanted to get kids asking questions: “Where do the ingredients come from? What is the impact of the cuisine on the society? What are the unique and on-trend ways you can serve it? When you can hold a meal in your hands that can transport you across the globe (especially with the current travel restrictions), who wouldn’t sign up?” New items include Chinese dim sum-style dumplings, Italian arancini (rice balls), “no-beef” chili nachos, Asian fusion lettuce wraps, Middle Eastern falafel and a classic Cuban sandwich.

For school districts navigating through the pandemic, Byrne emphasizes there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution for a contract management company like Flik to put into place across the board. Service models are different everywhere, so an individual approach is necessary. Here is his story.

“I’d start by saying one plan does not fit all. We have had to customize COVID service plans for each school. Populations, facility layout, number of meal periods and the schools’ COVID mitigation policies have all been factors in the type of dining service we are providing. Most service has gone from dining hall service with multiple stations to pre-packaged grab-and-go hot and cold meals.

dim_sum_from_Flik_street_food.jpgPhoto: Dim sum is one of the global experiences brought to schools by Flik Independent School Dining’s new series of international street food.

Day schools are focusing on pick-up and classroom delivery, with classroom delivery focusing on younger grades. Some schools with more space and scheduling flexibility—particularly our boarding schools—have been able to serve students with strict social distancing measures in place.

No matter what type of service we are providing, the safety of our school communities and staff has been top priority, with strict safety measures and protocols in place.

That said, fun and exciting menus are more important now than ever before. Menus and service have been streamlined during these times so we must ensure the students and school communities do not feel like they are missing the innovative menu specials they normally would experience. If our communities do not have quite as many choices as usual, we better make sure we hit the mark with the day’s special.

We always closely monitor food trends and match them with data our marketing teams collect to tell us what this new generation of students is looking for. The kids in our school communities are looking to expand their food experiences and are experimenting more with bold new flavors.

As we are entrenched in educational environments, it’s vital that we not only feed the students but also educate them on authenticity around each global cuisine.     

Street foods lend themselves to fast service, but not all items work in a pre-packaged service style, so we had to source the correct packaging that works with each menu offering. Items like dim sum work well in bento boxes. Banh mi or Cubano sandwiches are partially wrapped in kraft paper so they’re easy to hold while still showing the amazing ingredients inside. We also can’t forget the paper boats that hold street tacos and loaded nachos. The ability to have the students preorder allows us to have the meals packed up and ready for safe, quick service.

As I look towards the future, I understand that COVID has changed not only how we serve food but also, it has highlighted how we engineer our menus. I do believe self-service stations will come back, but people will always be looking for safe, fast service of high-quality, innovative foods. Thankfully this new generation is also demanding more transparency of ingredients and a greater focus to local and sustainable practices that chefs have been preaching for years.

As told to Tara Fitzpatrick, Nov. 3, 2020.

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