The North Shore School District is now serving locally caught fish at its school lunches, the first district in the state to implement this step.
For its first seafood-based lunch on Feb. 2, North Shore High School served fish tacos entirely made from scratch in-house.
The Montauk-sourced tilefish filets were marinated in a citrus marinade, baked in the oven and then served in fish tacos with taco sauce, broccoli slaw, fresh tomato salsa and a Mexican corn salad, all consisting of local, New York State produce.
Alan Levin, the food service director for the North Shore School District, said that about 50% to 60% of students tried the lunch and their adult sales doubled.
“It’s kind of nerve-wracking when you bring in a new item, especially seafood,” Levin said. “Not too many people have good feelings with it. But it surprisingly went well. It was one of our busier lunch periods for the year.”
Levin and the district work with Cornell Cooperative Extension to source a multitude of local products. Levin said he approached the group inquiring about the possibility of adding seafood in November, with it taking just about two months to arrive in the cafeterias. The Cornell Cooperative connected the district to the marine organization, and now the district has access to fresh and locally sourced seafood.
The district’s first delivery only consisted of tilefish, but Levin said they have the chance to order other varieties, such as monkfish, squid, flounder and scallops.
He added that he plans to serve the locally sourced seafood about once every month and is looking forward to adding them to the menu in April and May.
Levin said that for about 10 years the district has taken a “scratch-cooking” approach to lunch preparation to serve more natural and less processed foods to students. This is to combat health issues that can be caused by unhealthy eating habits, such as obesity and diabetes.
The cafeteria lunches made in-house are a hit, according to Levin. Some high school students can leave campus for lunch, but he said that a large majority choose to stay, with a buzz going around about what is for lunch that day.
“It’s a good buzz,” Levin said. “It’s a lot of fun serving the kids and just listening to them in the cafeteria. That’s the best feeling for me. I could produce everything out in the world, but if they’re not eating it, it doesn’t matter. These kids are actually eating it.”
Levin added that this is not possible without his kitchen staff, including high school cook Basma Hanasy, who makes all the sauces and marinades every day, comes in at 6:30 a.m. and is always deep in cooking when Levin arrives later in the morning.
“They really cook with their heart and their love,” Levin said. “From top to bottom, from head cook in each kitchen to food service worker, they are hands down the best staff around.”
Since Levin has assumed his position as food service director, he said his goal is to get as many local, New York State products he can source and serve to his students. He said this is because local ingredients are fresher, better for the environment and good for local farmers and businesses.
“There’s more to this than just serving fish,” Levin said.
In the future, Levin plans to add even more locally sourced products in his cafeterias. He said his next plan is whole chickens raised in New York.