** If your browser doesn't support Flash, you can
listen to this report by clicking on the link at the right under
"Download The Audio." **
Kuulei Moreno is wearing a black T-shirt with a four-letter word
This is chef's house. So, they show respect when
they come into chef's house
OK, chef's house is a linoleum lunch room with folding tables
and menus scrawled in magic marker. And chef's house is full of
loud but respectful kids.
Warm the buns in now. Yes chef! Turn them over so
you can see that they're toasted. Yes, chef!
We're a team, right guys?
Moreno is no lunch lady. She's part chef, part coach, and
she's turned this lunchroom pro.
We run our cafeteria like a restaurant. We have to
make the customer happy. The kids are our customers and they have
to like it.
Moreno has four kids of her own and knows what most kids don't
like. Meatloaf, warmed-over hamburgers and baked French fries
unless there's chili and cheese on top. This being the first day of
school, she's tasting everything.
These are our new teriyaki chicken sandwiches.
Hold on, let me make sure that's done. Hey, that's crazy good.
They're going to love that.
Kuulei Moreno never planned to run a school cafeteria. She's a
graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. But she's also a
graduate of, yes, Wheatland High. Deaths in her family brought her
home. She was unsure of her future, so, six years ago she took the
low-paying job to run her alma mater's lunch room.
The first time we were going to make fresh
potatoes I thought we were going to have a riot in the kitchen
because they had to peel potatoes. And that wasn't happening. And I
said, yeah, it IS happening. So, it was a fight all the
The fight was to feed 800 students fresh food. The
ill-equipped kitchen she inherited couldn't do that. Now,
KitchenAid mixers line up like soldiers on a counter. There's a
12-burner stove, industrial refrigerators, convection ovens. How
did Moreno get the district to give her the money?
I fed them. I bribed them, I fed them as much as I
And used logic.
I said, you know if we have a charbroiler, we can
cook the burgers a lot more healthier because you don't want to
bake them in their own grease. We've just got a good administration
that supports the program.
Dr. Vic Ramos is district superintendant and the high school's
Dr. Ramos: We have a
student body just like any school that votes with their feet. If
the food's good, they come in and eat, and if food isn't, they
don't come in, and we've noticed a marked increase in the amount of
student lunches served here.
The more students eat the school lunch, the more federal
dollars flow Wheatland's way.
Moreno may have her dream kitchen, but she still cooks on a
budget. Relying on free US commodities is no barrier to cooking
well. The best example is pizza. The crust is made daily from
commodity flour. And then there's the sauce.
So we use tomato sauce, tomato paste and diced
EC: All commodities
And it's got commodity carrots that we chop up,
fresh garlic and some fresh basil that my student brings in. And we
cook it down…for hours
[BELL, STUDENTS COME IN]
The students swarm the serving line in a first-day-of-school
rush. Moreno wears a whistle around her neck in case the noise
level gets any louder. Here comes the sell.
KM: We got turkey tacos. We got bbq turkey
hoagies. We got homemade chili with nachos. And….come here. Turkey
wrap with a cole slaw with Fuji apples and a Meyer yogurt lemon
A senior named Norma is in the courtyard eating pizza so
tomatoey it looks like a wedge of straight Vitaman C. She knows
it's made from scratch. And she's grateful.
Norma Herrario: I think it's really cool, 'cause
they, like, put all their time and effort into it. I'll spread the
That's the kind of word of mouth Moreno is hoping for. She
says good food makes good students.
They're our children. And we should treat them
like these are the guys who are going to be running our country,
sooner or later. We need to take care of them