School cafeteria has new life as lunch bistro
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – A high school cafeteria is probably not the most likely place to find one of the Roaring Fork Valley’s more renowned chefs.
But the previously dormant Glenwood Springs High School kitchen is exactly where Andreas Fischbacher is spending part of his weekdays this school year.
Fischbacher, who recently opened the new Allegria Italian Bistro on Main Street in Carbondale, began operating a breakfast and lunch service at GSHS in September.
“I wanted to give the kids a better nutrition option here,” said Fischbacher, whose daughter attends the school.
GSHS has had trouble maintaining a regular school lunch program, due to its open campus policy and central location with numerous fast-food and deli options close by.
But that doesn’t always offer the healthiest of choices, Fischbacher said.
“I believe it is our civic duty as parents and adults to give our kids the best food that’s out there,” he said. “And it’s important to educate kids about nutrition.”
Fischbacher was the head chef at Cloud 9 restaurant on the slopes at Aspen Highlands for 13 years before focusing his attention downvalley.
After training in his homeland of Austria, Fischbacher worked as a chef in New York City, on cruise ships and in hotels for several years before relocating to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1989.
The modern kitchen and cafeteria at GSHS has been unused, for the most part, since it was included in the new facility that opened in 2007.
This year, students and staff have had the rare opportunity to sample some of Fischbacher’s fine culinary creations for both breakfast and lunch.
Much of what’s on the ever-changing menu is made from fresh, local produce and other local products.
“Scratch cooking is what we want to do here, so we’re not just opening up a bag or box,” Fischbacher said. “And, we look for the best, affordable ingredients in this market.”
On a recent Monday, the lunch menu included an array of items, including an Asian grilled chicken wrap, Crystal River meat burgers with oven-roasted garlic potatoes and Greek spinach feta pocket with Caesar Salad.
The items are priced in the $5 to $7 range, which is competitive with other off-site options.
During a short break between classes around 9 a.m. on this particular morning, GSHS junior Rebecca Gabriel stopped by for an order of bacon.
“I like to see what’s here, when I have money,” she said. “It’s really good, I like the lunches. And he has really good hot chocolate.”
Gabriel was surprised when Fischbacher offered up a free breakfast burrito for her to sample.
“Give it a try, I’ll think you’ll like it,” he prompts.
“Teenagers really need to have a good breakfast,” he said. “Eighty percent of high school kids don’t have a proper breakfast, and end up eating a lot of sugary stuff. That’s no way to get the day started.”
Senior student Alberto Ramirez said he still usually leaves campus for lunch. But breakfasts are convenient to have at school since he often has early-morning sports practices.
“It’s nice to be able to eat a little bit before class,” he said. “I still like to go out for lunch, because I drive. But this is really nice for the freshmen and sophomores who don’t drive yet.”
Cooking for high school students isn’t all that easy, Fischbacher said.
“I’ve cooked for millionaires and billionaires, and this is the toughest customer,” he said. “This is a very picky eating group, and they will lose interest if you constantly have the same food.”
In reality, Fischbacher is only serving about 50 to 60 lunches per day, out of a student body of close to 800. But it’s a good start, and more and more it’s catching on with both students and school staff.
“It is high quality, so it’s not your regular school meal,” said GSHS Principal Paul Freeman. “I have to admit I eat there more than I intend to.
“It’s a fabulous facility that we have here, so it’s nice someone is able to make it work,” he said.
GSHS is the only one of the Roaring Fork School District Re-1’s three primary high schools that doesn’t participate in the national school lunch program.
Re-1’s director of food services, Michelle Hammond, said many GSHS students bring their lunch and make use of the microwave ovens that are available.
But for those who want fresh-cooked, hot food, a commercial lunch counter is a good option as well, she said.
“I’m absolutely pleased to have someone there to serve healthy, nutritious meals out of the cafeteria,” she said. “He’s doing a fabulous job.”
Being a commercial venture operating under contract, the service is not able to accommodate students who qualify for free or reduced lunch under a traditional school lunch program. Fischbacher said he is exploring possible grants to help those students, though.
Aside from Fischbacher’s use of the school kitchen for the breakfast and lunch program, about a dozen GSHS are involved in a culinary class offered by CMC at the school, Hammond said.
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With some students performing below their actual grade level, Garfield Re-2 School District leaders spent Monday’s board meeting asking themselves how they can improve the district’s quality of education.