School lunch reformers this past weekend salivated over a CBS Sunday Morning dispatch from Paris showing schoolchildren munching on ratatouille turnovers and mussels.
Fresh, organic, local produce is the norm in French schools, says the city of Dijon's spokesman Fabian Forni, who's in town with a cadre of chefs to mark the opening of "The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy" at the Dallas Museum of Art.
In Dijon, more than 8,000 school meals are prepared in a centralized kitchen that's equipped with an embarrassment of high-tech gadgets, including a massive slow-cooker in which beef bourguignon spends the weekend simmering.
Feeding wine-soaked stews and frog legs to grade-schoolers "costs the city quite a lot of money," Forni says, but the district justifies the price as an investment in the upcoming generation's health and cultural identity.
American school lunch crusaders, who've fought mightily for increased cafeteria funding, likely wonder where French cities find the money for their ambitious menus.
"We pay with taxes, of course," Forni says with a classic Gallic sneer.
"It is our culture," adds chef William Frachot, who's shown the kitchen's staffers how to prepare fish in carrot sauce. Serving five-course meals to French 3-year olds, he says, shouldn't be considered any more exotic than "Chinese people eating dogs."
Frachot and his fellow chefs have a busy schedule in Dallas: In addition to a series of private seminars and dinners,.the four Dijonites will conduct food and wine tastings at the Dallas Museum of Art and a mustard sampling at NorthPark mall. Forni is confident shoppers will be familiar with Dijon and its cuisine.
"They know our history," says Forni, whose assessment of the average American eater is based largely on his experience opening "The Mourners" at the Met. "They know Dijon is in Burgundy."
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For those who haven't brushed up on their escargot and coq au vin recipes, the chefs will be at the State Fair of Texas tomorrow, demonstrating their techniques in the Celebrity Kitchen.
"They fry everything there," says Forni, who sampled fried salad, fried peaches and fried cheese during a planning visit. "I think the chefs are going to enjoy the fried food."
For more on the exhibit and the chefs' visit, see the press release below.