Meet our School Nutrition Director, Mr. Steve Sallese

How many grants have you received this school year? What were they for?
“I took advantage of the Mooh Lah for Schools and was able to get the Cow Fridge which holds a variety of free milk for all students. This is a great piece of equipment for our feeding program because it allows students to choose their milk options easily from the open-faced fridge. We offer fat-free chocolate, 1% white milk,  soy milk, and lactose-free milk. The school is lucky to have been selected for the grant because the equipment is almost $4,000!

We also purchased a grill and most of our portable equipment over the last few months using Food Service Funds from our National School Lunch Program (NSLP). When a school food service program is fortunate enough to have a profit, that profit must be spent on upgrading the kitchen equipment to continue bettering the quality of food for the students.”

What opportunities have these new items provided for the students of New Branches? What about the staff?
“The money and items we receive from grants allow us to step out of the box! We can increase our nutrition program by introducing various food items and cooking styles that most kids are not familiar with. 

For instance, New Branches purchased a Traeger Smoker/Grill with our excess Food Service Funds from the 2019 school year. This one piece of equipment, combined with some culinary knowledge, has really impacted our students’ eating. We can offer fresh, school-made smoked pork and turkey as a protein option and create various menu items from smoked meats. We have broadened our students’ culinary palate with global cuisines.”

Where do you get your inspiration and creative ideas from?
“I was very fortunate to grow up in a family that has always been in the food business; my dad has been in the produce business all his life. I learned the art from him starting at an early age when I would work at the market in Boston, Massachusetts, as a 13-year-old kid.

I then took three years of Culinary at a Vocational School, and after that, I joined the military. I started in the United States Navy and was a cook for four years before transferring to the United States Coast Guard as a food service specialist. I built a reputation and won Galley of the Year in 1996 as an independent duty Culinary Specialist! I was lucky to be assigned to the CG Training Center in Petaluma, California, as a Culinary Instructor. I was certified as an Executive Chef and taught Culinary for several years until I was offered a commission as a Chief Warrant Officer (CWO). At that time, I was involved in the Food Service Training Food Safety and Food Service Assignments. I had an excellent career and retired in 2008 after 27 years.”

Why do you think it’s important to introduce students to new and unique foods they might not otherwise try?
“Some children are more fortunate than others and have seen other places in the U.S and overseas. Many of our students have never left Grand Rapids. My goal is to introduce children to a world of flavor on a school lunch budget! I enjoy talking to kids about food and nutrition, and I especially go home happy when I know I reached even just ONE KID and made a difference.”

What has been a favorite snack/healthy lunch lately?
“Just last week, I did a Brussels Sprout special. At least once a week, I create a special that includes fresh fruits or veggies and try to get as many kids to try something new. To my surprise, I was able to get almost 160 students to try Brussels Sprouts, but when you’re cooking with Roasted Garlic and Bacon, you could serve it on a flip flop, and the kids would probably enjoy it. I was impressed by how many kids tried it and then asked for more. A great day for culinary education at NBCA!”

How do you get delicious food to students even during COVID times?
“With the social distance, we must try as best as we can to keep spread apart, and in a K-8 school, it’s like herding cats! God Bless these teachers; they do so much. And then Steve shows up with his food cart, and the show begins. The kids all know my stainless steel food cart’s sound and get excited before I even get into the classroom. 

I use the hall as an area in the 4th to 8th grade to take advantage of the space and create some really fun food events. “Street Tacos” are now called “Chef Steve’s Hall Tacos.” I even made a homemade family recipe of blueberry BBQ sauce and served it as an extra for our recent pulled pork sandwich. The kids loved it. I smoked 50 lbs of pork and made carnitas. 

I incorporate most of my culinary arts with a little food science or food history by recognizing where our local cuisine actually have their roots. I personally bought flags from several countries I have visited, and when I serve that particular nation’s cuisine, I travel around with the flag on my food cart.”

Tell us about your previous job(s)
“I served in the U.S Military from 1981 to 2008. I am a retired U.S Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer (CWO). I made my way up the enlisted ranks most of that time was in Culinary, although in the USCG, you need to be involved in every aspect of the mission. I served as a Boarding Officer, Fisheries Species Identification Shipboard Fire Fighter Trainer. I trained Coast Gaurd Cadets on firefighting techniques onboard the CG Barque Eagle, where I served as the Command Chief and Food Service Officer.  It was there that I was offered a commission as a CWO. I never imagined this dream to come true as only about 1% of the USCG are selected and commissioned. It’s a very proud accomplishment.

I received most of my professional culinary training from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). I took years of training during my 27 years of military service although I never did finish my degree during my active duty. Every time I started a program, I would get underway on the ship or end up out at sea and could not finish. 

It wasn’t until  2013 when I returned to school to accomplish my goal. After working for several companies as an Executive Chef/Food Service Consultant and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector, I moved to Michigan. My wife, who is also in the USDA, received a promotion to come to Michigan. This allowed me to be a stay-at-home dad and finish college. I graduated in 2017 from the American Military University with a BA in Food Services Hospitality Management. It was quite the ride being in your 50’s, being a dad with a 1-year-old, and taking courses online!”


Thanks for all you do for New Branches, Mr. Steve!