A Taste Of Vietnam at James Williams Middle School!

JWMS students sample world cuisine

James Williams Middle School students enjoyed a most unique “Taste Of Vietnam” school lunch Wednesday. Burgers were sidelined for the day as many of the children dined on a Vietnamese dish called Bun Cha.

Photos by Kayla Breese/River News Ashante Towne, left, and Kolby Ridderbusch, right, are served Bun Cha, a Vietnamese dish prepared by a Taher corporate chef.

Photos by Kayla Breese/River News
Ashante Towne, left, and Kolby Ridderbusch, right, are served Bun Cha, a Vietnamese dish prepared by a Taher corporate chef.

Once or twice a year middle school students try traditional dishes from various parts of the world prepared by a corporate chef from Taher Dining, the school district’s food service company.

“We are serving a Vietnamese Bun Cha that we saw when we were in Hanoi,” said chef Chris Murray. “It’s a very healthy noodle bowl with a fresh Vietnamese broth and fresh vegetables highlighting the daikon radishes and the lemongrass.”

The cafeteria was filled with the wonderful aroma of spices and cooked chicken as the children taste-tested the dish.

“We’re bringing it here today to help (the students) learn the Vietnamese culture through the food,” said Murray. “(We’re) trying to introduce them to new things.”

The dish was comprised of wheat noodles – to fit USDA guidelines – topped with a flavorful broth that had a bit of heat, chicken, spring salad, shredded daikon radishes and carrots, and fresh basil.

Peter Danh, a student whose family is from Vietnam, said the dish was authentic.

“I think it’s actually like the same thing as what we normally have in Vietnam, so I think it’s really good,” he said. “This is a dish that, like we have a Chinese and Vietnamese restaurant here, so this is a lot of what Americans like to choose. So I think it’s really smart that we did this dish instead of a lot of others.”

He said he was excited for his classmates to try Vietnamese food.

“Overall, I just think it’s really cool that they bring it to the school,” he said.

Meadow Ross thought the meal was just OK, but was glad to try it.

“It’s like sort of sour,” she said.

“I think it’s fun (that the Corporate Chef comes),” she added.

Principal Tim Howell said the chef’s visits allow for a learning opportunity at the lunch table.

“I think it’s a great experience for our kids because then they can see the variety of cuisine that’s out there,” he said, adding that he has heard some of the children wish aloud for the special meals to be served every week.

A bowl of Bun Cha.

A bowl of Bun Cha.

Each bowl of Bun Cha came with chopsticks, another cultural experience for the students.

“They’re trying, some of the kids catch on pretty quickly and others just use (the chopsticks) kind of as spears,” Howell said.

Pat Karaba, the district’s food service director and a Taher employee, was especially enthused for the students to try the Asian dish.

“I was excited about the Vietnamese,” she said, declaring the sauce excellent. “I thought it was a great opportunity to have the kids taste the actual cuisine they would be tasting in Vietnam if they went. It’s just a unique opportunity that we are very glad to have, that (the chef) can come up and visit us.”

Howell gave the kitchen staff credit for offering the food.

“I just appreciate the food staff actually putting this on for the kids and giving them that experience and the kids are enjoying it,” he said.

Murray has been with Taher for over 15 years and has visited Rhinelander schools once or twice a year.

He and 11 other chefs visit other parts of the world, try their food, experience the culture and try to rewrite recipes to fit USDA guidelines.

“To live in the culture for a week to 10 days, however long that period of time is, helps us understand the whys and hows and because of how they make their foods,” Murray said, adding that he appreciated the positive feedback from the students and staff. “It’s all part of the package that we bring to the table. If Taher is in your kitchens at your schools then the corporate chefs are part of that package. We come in and bring the new foods from the different cultures around the world.”

Kayla Breese may be reached at kayla@rivernewsonline.com.

Kayla Breese
Feature Writer