Would You Go To A Restaurant That Serves School Food?

 International chefs at Alltech brewery

International chefs at Alltech brewery

In France, adults enjoy eating at restaurants that serve adult versions of school lunch food. I learned this from Chef Cyrille Berland, who came to Lexington recently to compete in the Lyons Farm International Chef Showcase. If I understood correctly, these trendy eateries, called "cantines" like the originals in schools, provide their adult patrons a nostalgic, mostly healthy version of a comfort meal: fish, vegetables, fruit. (No reheated pizza or fried potatoes in French school lunches, apparently.)

I tagged along recently as eight international chefs and their eight great local chef counterparts toured Alltech's brewery and distillery in downtown Lexington. Dr. Pearse Lyons, Alltech's visionary founder, invited the chefs to Lexington to add spice to the Alltech National Horse Show.

 From left, Chef Jeremy Ashby (Azur, Lexington, Kentucky), Chef Cyrille Berland (Toques Rebelles Academy of Cooking, Caen, France), Chef Petr Elias (Hotel Villa, Prague, Czech Republic). Chefs Ashby and Elias later won the $5,000 prize during the Lyons Farm International Showcase, weekend competition

From left, Chef Jeremy Ashby (Azur, Lexington, Kentucky), Chef Cyrille Berland (Toques Rebelles Academy of Cooking, Caen, France), Chef Petr Elias (Hotel Villa, Prague, Czech Republic). Chefs Ashby and Elias later won the $5,000 prize during the Lyons Farm International Showcase, weekend competition

 Early stage Town Branch Bourbon

Early stage Town Branch Bourbon

French schools do not offer adult beverages like Bourbon for lunch, but both the foods and the experience itself are plenty adult. Here's an excerpt from a blog post by Karen Le Billon, author of French Kids Eat Everything:

What is a cantine?

The best way to think about a school cantine (cafeteria) in France is to imagine what your school cafeteria would have been like if the food had been made by cordon bleu chefs-in-training, overseen by a nutritionist, and served to you at the table by maternal waiters (who were only too happy to cut up your food if you couldn’t quite manage it). The official term restaurant scolaire (school restaurant) sums it up perfectly.

More seriously, a cantine is a lot like a cafeteria, except that younger students are usually served their food (the meals are not self-service until they are in high school). There are no vending machines in French schools (they are banned by law), and children are strongly discouraged from bringing their own meals from home (and most don’t). So the cantine is the place where the majority of French children eat lunch on school days.

What is a school lunch like?

For primary school students, the lunch is three or four courses: a salad starter, a warm main course, cheese, and dessert. There is only one choice on the menu, and they are served at the table. This may be why the place where lunch is eaten is called a ‘restaurant scolaire‘ (school restaurant). High-school students typically get two choices for each course and often eat in a ‘self’ (meaning a self-serve cafeteria), although many French parents are ambivalent about this self-service model (preferring the idea of a restaurant).

Ministry of National Education requirements are that children sit at the table for a minimum of 30 minutes–in order to eat their food sufficiently slowly and properly.

I feel a bit nostalgic myself, even though I did not go to school in France. Thank goodness for the wonderful people all over the USA who are working to improve our school lunches. And thanks to Dr. Pearse Lyons and Alltech for continuing to seed the fertile ground of Kentucky with a wide world of new ideas and possibilities.

rona