Tag Archive | "greg pisciotta"

Room For Wellness In The Pierson Cafeteria

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Chef DSCF7524 adjusted

By Claire Walla


When the Sag Harbor School Board passed a new Wellness Policy in November, School Board President Mary Anne Miller said the move was not merely meant to remove unhealthy items from the cafeteria.

It presented a sea change for the district.

High-fructose corn syrup? Gone.

Trans-fats? Eliminated.

Whole milk? No more.

“It’s had to find products with some of the ingredients they don’t want us to have,” said Pierson Middle/High School Cafeteria Manager Greg Pisciotta.

Particularly high-fructose corn syrup.

“If you’ve ever been to a supermarket, then you know it’s everywhere! It took us two weeks to find whole wheat bread without high-fructose corn syrup,” he added.

Already, Pisciotta has rid cafeteria fridges and cupboards of foods containing high fructose corn syrup and non-nutritive sweeteners, as well as hydrogenated and trans fats. At this point, of the roughly 500 food items stored at the school, Pisciotta said there are probably just a handful, now, that contain those ingredients.

“They [the school board] would like us to make more from scratch, but it’s hard with this kitchen,” explained Pisciotta.

The facility only has one oven and a two-tier convection oven for keeping food warm. Pisciotta does not have access to a stovetop, which he said limits his abilities. Though he’s adapted to making certain foods in the oven — boiling pasta, cooking ground meat — the need to reach a viable compromise adds another layer to his job.

Especially since the board is pushing for more meals made from scratch.

“Back before we had to take all of those ingredients out [like high-fructose corn syrup], I had a very, very popular menu,” Pisciotta said.

One top seller was the chicken burrito, which Pisciotta bought pre-made in plastic packaging. He has since had to remove it from the cafeteria because he found it contained high levels of sodium; it’s been replaced by a chicken quesadilla he prepares himself.

Pisciotta has also removed pre-made burgers from the menu and replaced them with homemade pizza, either put together on a sourdough roll or premade pizza dough. Here, he’s even ventured into a menu item he called “salad pizza.”

“It’s just pizza crust with a salad on top,” he said. “A lot of kids get it.”

The cafeteria still carries certain pre-made items, like the cooked chicken used in the quesadilla, but Pisciotta said roughly 75 percent of his monthly menu is now assembled by hand, rather than merely removed from a package, heated and served. (He estimated only half the menu items were prepared by hand before the Wellness Policy was put in place.)

Thus far, the newly revamped menu seems to be doing well.

According to numbers crunched by District Business Manager Janet Verneuille, the district had earned more money in the cafeteria by February of this year than it had by the same time last year.

However, the data also showed more students are buying menu items a la carte — a revenue stream that increased by $26,281 over the same period of time from 2011 to 2012 — rather than purchasing the full meal, which has seen a dip of $10,134 in that same period of time.

“You can make something from scratch and make it as healthy as you want,” Pisciotta added. “But if it’s not going to sell, it’s not going to work.”

School Board President Mary Anne Miller, who was a driving force behind the updated Wellness Policy, realizes the cafeteria can only do so much at this point.

“We need finances to upgrade the facility,” Miller said.

She said she’s been encouraged by the number of parents who have already expressed an interest in donating their time and other resources to helping improve the cafeteria facilities.

However, Miller added, the facility itself is a major hurdle to significant change.

A bond proposal voted down in 2009 but reintroduced by the board this fall (at a price tag of $166,920) maps out several changes for the cafeteria, which Miller said are important for transforming the space for the better.

The current version of the plan, as suggested by the Long Range Planning Committee, would expand the kitchen into the testing room next door, creating more storage space for food.

Though it’s not incorporated into the $166,920 plan, the idea has also been floated to install an exhaust system, which would allow the district to install a stovetop. That would give Pisciotta the ability to cook a much wider variety of foods.

“We want to look at this not just as a cafeteria, but as another gathering space for the district,” Miller explained.

As she sees it, these cafeteria upgrades could even make the space more conducive for community gatherings and demonstrations, and give the district itself a better facility for teaching health and nutrition programs.

Because the district only has about 4 percent of its student body taking advantage of the free-and-reduced lunch program, Miller said a full service cafeteria is not a necessity.

“The cafeteria is a convenience facility,” she added. “That said, if we could improve the facility and more fully integrate curriculum, giving kids more hands-on life experience with food and nutrition, then I think it’s a good endeavor.”

As for Pisciotta, he said he would continue to produce the best quality food with the space, equipment and budget he’s allowed.

“I can only do so much, I’m pretty clear about that,” he added. “There’s only so much cooking-from-scratch I can do with an oven and a steamer.”

In the end, he continued, “With all the limitations we have, I think we’re doing alright.”

Pierson, Bay Street Plan Meeting for 31st (Plus Cafeteria Update)

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By Claire Walla


For some, the case is closed.

For others, it’s hard to know where to begin.

But for administrators in the Sag Harbor School District, the discussion surrounding the future of the Bay Street Theatre carries on.

Recently, the theater announced it will not stay at its current location on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor when its three year lease expires next year. Instead, Bay Street wants to find a more permanent home. Southampton Village has offered Bay Street the current Parrish Art Museum space  on Jobs Lane — which will be vacated later this year when the museum moves to a new home of its own. But theater board members have expressed a strong desire to stay in Sag Harbor and two weeks ago, hosted a public meeting to explore the possibility.

One option raised that night was the creation of a new theater at Pierson High School that could accommodate both Bay Street and school productions.

Addressing the Sag Harbor Board of Education at a regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, district superintendent Dr. John Gratto announced the district would be meeting with Bay Street Theatre board members on Tuesday, January 31 at 6 p.m. Dr. Gratto said he had met with the theater’s executive director, Tracy Mitchell, and proposed next week’s meeting “for the purpose of discussing how we might collaborate with each other.”

School board member Chris Tice supported the idea, but urged Dr. Gratto to create an agenda that could be circulated to the public before discussions get underway.

“Let’s get it out there early,” she said.

School board’s president Mary Anne Miller agreed.

“This is the right thing to do,” she said, adding “It will probably be a lively discussion.”

The meeting will be open to the public and largely revolve around a plan already in place for the construction of a new Pierson Middle/High School auditorium. The blueprint for a 300-seat auditorium was created in 2009, but was never put to a community vote as part of a bond measure.

However, this fall the school’s Facilities Planning Committee recommended the school board continue to pursue the reconstruction project through private funds instead of taxpayer money. (The committee also recommended the district pursue the most expensive of three proposed reconstruction plans, at an estimated cost of $12 million.)

Dr. Gratto said rebuilding the school’s auditorium is a crucial aspect of any potential collaboration.

“There are hundreds of details that still need to be fleshed out,” Dr. Gratto added. “But my general rule is: if there’s a will, there’s a way.”


In other news…


School district business director Janet Verneuille reported that the Pierson cafeteria has improved its sales — and its menu — since its new manager Greg Pisciotta came on board at the beginning of last year.

“Last year at this time we had a loss of about $20,000,” Verneuille said.

Referring to a chart that showed cafeteria revenues and expenditures for the first half of both 2010 and 2011, she explained the cafeteria earned about $13,973 more this year than it had by this time last year.

“We think we’ll come in in the black this year,” Verneuille continued. “Break even, or maybe run a $5,000 to $6,000 profit.”

Verneuille added that Pierson had the exact same number of students in December 2011 as it did in December 2010, so “obviously, we’re selling more.”

According to Pisciotta, this was the goal when he came on board last year: to break-even and to make the program healthier.

He said he increased program participation by increasing the presence of popular menu items and adding items students specifically requested (like flavored tea). He also cut costs by getting rid of ingredients that weren’t frequently used — food items he referred to as “orphans” — and cracking down on portion control.

“Everyone knows and loves Sue Higgins,” Pisciotta said of the woman who considerately serves Pierson students each afternoon. “But, I always kid her that she feeds the kids like they’re her kids and they’re going off to war.”

He said he’s tried to regulate more portion control to ensure the cafeteria maintains healthy profit margins.

In the way of providing healthier options, Pisciotta said he’s made a number of changes based largely on the advice of the school board. For instance, he replaced “compressed” chicken patties and nuggets to the “full muscle” variety, which he said is not made with rib meat or rib juice.

He’s also been purchasing vegetables and fruits that are flash frozen, rather than canned in containers of fructose. And healthy snack options, like Greek yogurt, hummus and sunflower seeds are seeing some sales.

He added that salad bar sales have improved, thanks to one crucial readjustment:

“As soon as I changed over to iceberg lettuce [from mixed greens] the sales doubled,” he said. “For some reason, kids like it better.”

Heading into the second half of the year, Pisciotta said he plans to add new menu items like roasted chicken, beef stew and chicken pot pie.

Pisciotta did add, however, that sales of certain snack items — like Pop-Tarts and breakfast bars — have dropped since the school started carrying “healthier” options. (Pop-Tarts are now whole grain.)

“I would say if we put [breakfast bars] in tomorrow we’d see about a $250 increase for the week,” he speculated.

But, even so, Pisciotta said the cafeteria is in healthy financial standing.

“Even with the increase of the cost of food and supplying paper cups [instead of the less-expensive Styrofoam], I still think we’ll break even.”