FnB chef Charleen Badman has nothing against mac 'n cheese. In fact, she claims to make a pretty killer version herself.
But when she found out that the gooey comfort food was often the lone "vegetarian" option at a local school cafeteria (or, perhaps, a bagel with cream cheese), she got pretty fired up.
"Vegetables are supposed to be the new 'it' thing, right?" she asks.
Motivated to give the kids some nutrition, and maybe even to inspire the school district to put salad bars in its schools, Badman has volunteered to serve lunch this Friday to 550 students at a K-8 public school not far from the restaurant.
Badman is accustomed to cooking in the intimate open kitchen at 36-seat FnB -- where her masterful touch with seasonal vegetables landed her on Food + Wine's Top 10 Restaurant Dishes for 2010 -- but she's never done cooking on this scale before.
Still, she's undaunted.
Her friend and organic farmer Bob McClendon is donating vegetables, fruit, and honey for the lunchtime feast at the Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center, while FnB is purchasing 300 pounds of jidori chicken legs and hundreds of kid-sized hot dogs made just for the occasion by Schreiner's Sausage.
Badman got the idea after Taylor Jones, the school's assistant principal, came into the restaurant and invited her to teach a cooking class for third and fourth graders.
On her visit, the chef enlisted students to cut fresh herbs from one of the school's three gardens, to grate cheese for meatballs, and to experience the fragrance of fresh lemon verbena, which she added to "custard" (panna cotta).
The kids loved it.
"If I can make that connection for them -- that these things come from the ground and go into what we eat -- that's great," Badman says.
Reflecting on that day's events with sous chef Sacha Levine, Badman was full of ideas. "I said, 'There's so much more we can do.'" she recalls.
After meeting with the school board, she got permission to do the lunch. Since the school's small kitchen has no walk-in refrigerator and no burners, Badmas will be taking advantage of FnB's catering license to prepare much of the food.
Her menu will include "beanie weenies" (Schreiner's hot dogs with beans); roasted, colorful cauliflower with bechamel sauce; salad; roasted chicken legs; and fruit with honey.
Badman envisions every local restaurant taking on a school and having a say in what's served, even if it's only one dish.
"Times are changing," she says. "Chefs are really able to have an influence."