America's National Public Radio is doing a series on Roosevelt High
School in Seattle. Yesterday, they aired episode no. 5 which focused on
the the school's lunchroom, whose head chef is Mira Segula of Croatia.
Set forth below is an abridged transcript. The story itself (which I
had heard) interviewed her for a bit and contained more information
about her. Those wishing to listen to the story can do so at
Episode 5: Turkey Tetrazzini Day
April 4, 2002 -- The recipe for the famed turkey tetrazzini at Roosevelt
High School in Seattle, Wash., hasn't changed in decades. It's buttery,
cheesy, stick-to-your-ribs stuff, served up with pride by the "lunch
But most everything else in the cafeteria is facing a profound
transition. The forces of marketing, consolidation and convenience are
transforming the school lunchroom. As part of his yearlong series on the
students, teachers and staff at Seattle's largest high school, NPR's
Robert Smith reports that the era of the lunch lady may quickly be
coming to an end.
The Roosevelt High School kitchen doesn't serve just its own students
any more. Since fewer schools have their own kitchens, the kitchen crew
cooks for 38 other lunchrooms. Doing the math, kitchen manager Maria
Larsen figures they will have to put out about 4,500 servings of turkey
tetrazzini by Thursday.
"With high school kids, they love it," she tells Smith. "The little
kids? Eh. But the teachers like it a lot. This is comfort food, so it
goes over pretty big."
The work starts on Monday, when the lunch ladies start thawing 874
pounds of turkey. The decision wasn't entirely up to Larsen and her crew
-- after Thanksgiving and Christmas, the U.S. government buys up tons of
surplus turkey, destined for the nation's prisons and school lunchrooms.
So springtime at Roosevelt means turkey sausage, turkey ham, turkey
wraps, turkey corn dogs... and this week, turkey and noodles.
On Tuesday, head chef Mira Segulja, a petite, 61-year-old native of
Croatia, hefts big boxes of turkey meat and shredded cheese with arms of
steel. She's nearly dwarfed by the industrial-sized cooking vats -- vats
the size of hot tubs, stirred by wooden spoons that could paddle a
canoe. She rarely needs to look at the recipe.
The turkey-and-pasta mix is cooled overnight, and on Wednesday
individual servings are portioned into small foil pans, to be sent to
other Seattle public schools. And then it's Thursday -- turkey
tetrazzini day. Early that morning a truck hauls away thousands of
packets to the other schools. At Roosevelt's cafeteria, students get one
big scoop apiece. Add a handful of veggies to the tray, some milk and a
big tater tot, and the meal is complete. The cost: $1.75.
At the end of lunch, Assistant Principal Mike Musselwhite walks around
the lunchroom with a big garbage can, assessing the reaction. "It
actually seems like a successful lunch period -- there's not much
tetrazzini in the trash," he announces to the women in the kitchen.
But there's no time for celebration. Tomorrow, they're serving soft
tacos. And the longer view is uncertain -- the Seattle School District
is planning on consolidating the food distribution in one central
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