Stuart Jacobs’ kitchen at Jewish Community High School has no oven, no stove. To boil water for pasta, he uses plug-in electric burners. That doesn’t stop him from creating scrumptious kosher meals for students and faculty.
Nor did it stop the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine from awarding Jacobs and JCHS its annual Golden Carrot. The award was established five years ago to recognize food service professionals working to promote healthier school lunches. Jacobs takes home $1,500, while the school gets $3,500.
That’s a lot of green.
“The prize is very exciting and out of the blue,” says Jacobs, JCHS’ director of food service, who was unaware that he was nominated for the award. “It’s not something I had thought about.”
On the other hand, Jacobs and his staff certainly think about creating healthful menus.
“One of our main goals is to model and provide for healthful eating, utilizing organic produce,” Jacobs says. “The program is vegetarian, and also shows it can be done in the kosher realm as well.”
Kosher, vegetarian and yummy. Typical fare at the high school includes everything from organic salad bar, fresh soups, homemade falafel and hummus, chili, make-your-own burritos, Indian feast, and even sushi.
JCHS also replaced high-fat, high-sugar snacks in vending machines with healthy snacks. It’s all part of a food service plan put in place in 2004 when Jesse Alper (son of Noah’s Bagels founder, Noah Alper) ran the kitchen.
Not only does Jacobs care how the food is made, he cares how and where it’s eaten.
“Another goal of the food program was to bring everyone together,” he says. “Everyone eats in the commons: The whole school community — faculty, staff and students all eat together. The quality we provide gives incentive to stay in for lunch.”
The Cleveland native grew up in a traditional Jewish home and always kept kosher. By his early teens, he had developed an interest in cooking, launching his training as an intern for a pastry chef. He later worked in the kosher catering business in New York.
“I have a strong belief in food as something that gathers people together,” he says. “Part of what bothered me growing up was the limited access to kosher food in restaurants. One of my goals [at JCHS] is to show kosher cooking can be contemporary and delicious, and change with the times.”
When Jacobs first came to JCHS in 2007, he wasn’t sure students would take to his Alice Waters approach to fresh food. Nevertheless, he says, he set the bar high.
Which is why the kids keep coming back for seconds, even after they graduate.
“We get alumni who come back for lunch,” Jacobs notes. “They say, ‘I miss it so much. I can’t believe what they serve us in college.’”