Chef Nicole Offers Couscous to PES Students

May 23, 2014

by Len Lathrop

Unless you have a student in the elementary school you most likely don’t know how the lunch program has changed.

As part of the healthy eating program Chef Nicole Barreira, the corporate chef for the Great New Hampshire Restaurants Corporation, which includes T-Bones and Cactus Jacks, was at Pelham Elementary for lunch and to introduce a side dish with couscous as the primary ingredient.  Surprising?  Not when you consider that this is all part of healthy eating supervised by Kelly Rambeau whose title in the Pelham school system is nutritional services director, but whose role has many challenges.  Getting the students at all three schools to eat healthy, control the cost of the meals and follow national guidelines for school nutrition programs.

Couscous is a traditional North African and Middle Eastern dish made from precooked coarsely ground semolina, the rich endosperm extracted from durum wheat.  Think of it as tiny little pastas, which is how Chef Nicole described it to the first and second graders who were having lunch last Tuesday.  The taste test recipe was Cinnamon Couscous with raisins and craisins, and honey.  It was a voluntary taste test, a learning experiment for these 6, 7 and 8 year olds; a rough estimate was that 80 percent came up to get the side salad and, when asked if they like it, about 80 percent of the cafeteria put up their hands.  One student proclaimed it tasted like oatmeal, while another mentioned that it would be good hot.

These students are familiar with trying new things as “Miss Vegetable” comes to lunch once a month with something new and healthy to try.  Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables have been the main stay of Tuesday menus, and a wall chart showed where the items fit into the various food groups.

Chef Nicole has been with T-Bones and Cactus Jack for nine years; she grew up in Hudson and was part of the culinary program at Alvirne High School and then went on to the Southern New Hampshire University culinary program.  She has a undergraduate degree and a masters in organizations and marketing.

The chef explained couscous is high in protein and can be a delicious alternative to traditional pastas and white rice.  Use it as a bed for stew, meat or vegetables (the way Moroccans do), stir into salads, or use as an entrée with your favorite pasta sauce.  It will absorb the flavors of whatever spices or sauce you are using, making it versatile for most dishes you’d use rice or other pastas with.  It can also be combined with fruit, almonds, cinnamon and sugar for a simple dessert.