Catching up with chef Enserro

CUSD Nutrition Services director Vince Enserro looks back on his accomplishments during his first school-year on the job

Vince Enserro, Chico Unified School District’s director of Nutrition Services, outside of his Carmichael Drive office.

Vince Enserro, Chico Unified School District’s director of Nutrition Services, outside of his Carmichael Drive office.

Nutrition Services online:
Go to to learn more about CUSD Nutrition Services.

Vince Enserro came on board last summer as the new director of Nutrition Services for the Chico Unified School District (CUSD) to a considerable amount of fanfare and expectation. After all, Enserro—a certified executive chef with years of experience in public-school nutrition services as well as restaurant management—offered the promise of improving the local food landscape when it comes to the meals served in the district’s school cafeterias.

“Enserro … comes with qualifications that poise him to be just what the district needs in this time of tight budgets combined with increasingly vocal demands from parents and local food activists for better nutritional choices for students,” we wrote back in July 2011 (see “Chef on board,” July 7, 2011). Among other things, during his tenure heading up Nutrition Services at Arizona’s Chino Valley Unified School District, Enserro got rid of chocolate milk that contained high-fructose corn syrup in favor of a HFCS-less version, and upped the quality of the processed chicken nuggets served.

Perhaps predictably, Enserro has made admirable strides during his first year at the CUSD, maybe most notably in the wake of a recent flurry of negative publicity about ground beef containing a controversial meat byproduct treated with ammonium hydroxide known in the beef industry as boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT). It is also called lean finely textured beef (LFTB)—or, popularly, “pink slime.”

In response to consumer dismay over finding out the ground meat they had been eating contained LFTB, burger chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King stopped serving meat containing it, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture had already committed to purchasing 7 million pounds of LFTB-containing ground beef for use in its school-lunch program in the 2012-13 school year.

However, Enserro pointed out, “starting July 1, when the entitlement money for food, for new commodities, starts up again for the new fiscal year, the USDA does offer an option for not using textured-beef products.” Enserro will take this option, he said. “We will use the USDA’s option of not using it. If you’ve got the choice of ‘use it or don’t use it,’ nobody would take the choice to use it.”

Along similar lines, Enserro worked with CUSD nutrition specialist Tanya Harter to make menu changes during the past school year. “We went from processed chicken to whole-muscle chicken products,” he said. This switch includes substituting whole-muscle chicken nuggets for processed chicken nuggets, long a subject of derision from healthful-food advocates, especially since celebrity chef Jamie Oliver famously showed viewers in 2010 the stomach-turning ingredients many are made of.

“I think the ultimate goal is that we’re trying to get away from processed food as much as possible,” said Enserro. “We want to use upgraded products.”

Enserro said he and his staff—which includes three on-site bakery employees—“utilized about 2,000 pounds of cranberry beans this year,” acquired from Chico High School’s Henshaw Farms garden, which is operated by the school’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) group and is located on the corner of Guynn and Henshaw avenues.

The new CUSD Nutrition Services logo, designed by Enserro and CUSD nutrition specialist Tanya Harter.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said of working with bakery staff to find creative, nutritious ways to use the fresh beans. “We used them in our burritos. We made brownies—we worked together to use the cranberry beans as a fat substitute, to eliminate the fat, in our brownies, and in some cookies.”

Do the students have any idea they are eating brownies made out of beans?

“They do. We serve them at Pleasant Valley High School and they don’t say, ‘I’m not eating them.’ They think it’s cool that kids grew [the beans],” Enserro said. “Next year, we’re going to work on different items that [the FFA students] can grow [for us].”

Enserro also purchased locally grown apples, pears and mandarins—“as much local produce as we could”—to serve in the CUSD school-lunch program this past school year. Noting that “the hardest thing [about purchasing locally grown produce] is cost,” he said “we’ll continue to do that next year. We work with local farmers as much as we can.”

Enserro is excited about a USDA-funded summer free-meal program he is implementing starting May 29 at all Title-I schools, such as Chapman and Citrus elementary schools, and Chico Junior High School. “It will basically allow us to feed any child regardless of socioeconomic background. You could be from Germany, coming to visit Grandma, and you could go over [to one of these schools] and get breakfast and lunch [for free].”

The reasoning behind the new program, he said, is that “when summer comes, you have an increased struggle on the part of families to afford food when the kids are home all day.”

The summer program follows on the heels of Enserro’s successful Title-I-school supper program that began this past school year at Chapman and McManus elementary schools, whereby students enrolled in the after-school program are served a no-cost, themed (such as Asian, American, Italian or Mexican) dinner. Parents, who pay only $3.50 to eat, join their kids in the fun of eating dinner together and chatting when they come to pick up their children in the late afternoon.

“I wanted it to be a family night,” Enserro said. “I was fortunate to grow up when we had dinner as a family every night, and that’s the way [my wife and I] try to raise our family. And I know that doesn’t exist for all families.”

Enserro added that “we’re hopefully going to be able to create 12 to 14 new jobs starting this summer,” in the summer and supper programs; the family-supper program is set to expand next year into all of the CUSD’s Title-I schools.

On Enserro’s to-do list?

“To be able to have a composting program at all the [CUSD] schools, to where we don’t have any leftover trays and [compostable] forks and compostable food going to the landfill.”