Tastings: BHS School Lunch Reviews

Chef Julio Montes, as part of his makeover of the school lunch menu, shared some of his dishes with the Digital Journalism Class at Branford High School. Below are some reviews of the food by the students:

Comfort foods, chicken tenders and some spice

As I was presented platters of Branford High's lunches of the day, I noticed they were colorful, fresh and "comfort foods". After tasting the chicken tenders, sauces, french fries, and pizza, I had an overview of what is served here at BHS. The food that they’re serving is overall flavorful and enjoyable.

The first thing I tasted was the buffalo chicken pizza and it was really good. I indulged into the pizza first because it looked like a pizza you could get at a restaurant. The dough was wheat, so it was not crispy, but it was not floppy and uncooked. Without being greasy, but without being dry, I believe it was cooked with the right amount of oil. It was also not too cheesy. The layer of cheese was thin, and there was a thin layer of sauce and toppings.The cheese was evenly melted and tasted great. The amount of buffalo chicken was the perfect amount, and the sizes were cut small enough to enjoy. All the different vegetables and spices really made the pizza colorful and flavorful. The only thing missing was the true flavor of buffalo sauce. There was enough to add a hint of spice, but not enough to distinguish it was a buffalo chicken pizza.

I tried the chicken tenders with the different dipping sauces and visually, the chicken tenders did not look appetizing. They were not fried, like how restaurants usually serve them, but were baked. This caused them to have a beige, dry look to them. When I tasted the chicken, it was actually really good. Besides being room temperature, the chicken was spicy, tender and well cooked.

The meat is also whole muscle, meaning the chicken wasn’t chopped up and processed. With the chicken, I used the dipping sauces. The honey mustard was my favorite. It really had the flavor and had a pleasurable texture. Ranch with hot sauce was the next dipping sauce that I tried. There was a good amount of both ranch and hot sauce mixed together, leaving the flavor taste good. When eating the chicken tenders, I strongly encourage using the dipping sauces because they compliment each other.

I also tasted the french fries. Rarely do I buy the french fries at school, but when I do, I find them unappetizing. They always taste old and have a dry texture. When I tried them this time, the flavor was somewhat better, but they still tasted like how they were served. They also looked cooked correctly.

Overall the food that was served to the journalism class tasted good. The foods were colorful, fresh and had good flavors. The food is obviously not going to taste like a five star restaurant, but it should still be enjoyable to eat.  While under a budget and certain ingredients, Julio does a good job cooking enjoyable foods for the students. With minor changes, I think the food served at BHS is good. Personally, I will still not buy lunch here, but it’s not because of the lack of flavor.

- Faythe Ventresca

Baked, not fried and changes coming to breakfast

The first item Chef Montes prepared for us was a buffalo chicken pizza on whole wheat dough. It came to my surprise when I bit into the pizza, that the crunch was impeccable, accompanied by the tenderness of the chicken. The tang from the buffalo sauce mixed with the scallions gave the pizza a pop of flavor, without being too hot to handle.

Next, we were given chicken fingers and french fries. Due to FDA regulations, the usage of “frying” food is not permitted. Therefore, all chicken and fries were baked as an alternative. Although the chicken wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t as good as we all know fried food to be. Same thing goes for the fries. Without the crispiness from the fryer, the chicken and fries were slightly soft, and chewy, not crunchy and wholesome. Along with the chicken fingers and french fries, Montes included three different types of dips. Ranch with hot sauce, honey mustard, and garlic parmesan. The ranch dip with hot sauce tasted just like some sort of buffalo chicken dip. The coolness of the ranch, mixed with the sizzling of the hot sauce, really balanced out for a delicious dip. Not only does Montes gear all his attention to lunch, but breakfast as well. “I want to start making breakfast to order. Freshly cooked eggs and bacon on your sandwiches,” said the Chef himself. If these changes were put in play, his hope and belief is that more students will see the lunch program improved. As for purchasing a school lunch, I would definitely recommend it. Give the lunch a shot, and if you come to find you aren’t a fan, then you don’t have to buy anymore, it’s your call. - Gina Marino

Lots of variety, but pizza stands out

In general, the food was well cooked and tasty. There are few changes I would have prefered to make, but  my expectations aren’t as high for school lunch. Chef Julio Montes served us a Whole Wheat Buffalo Chicken pizza that was really delicious. The pizza wasn’t as greasy as most restaurants would serve, which is perfectly fine with me. It had enough saltiness & spices, adding a lot of richness to the flavor. The crust was thin and crispy while the cheese wasn’t heavily-loaded which I liked. The pizza wasn’t made in a brick oven but a regular cafeteria oven. I would prefer this pizza rather than greasy pizzas at restaurants.

The next food I tried was the potato wedges which were served with chicken tenders and 3 dippings. The dippings were garlic parmesan sauce, honey mustard, and ranch dressing mixed with red hot sauce. I prefer spicy flavored food so I tried on the ranch with red hot sauce. The sauce alone didn’t taste as good as I thought it would. I imagined it to have a lot more spice but I guess the ranch balanced the real taste of a hot sauce.  The potato wedges weren’t as impressive as the pizza either; they were a little mushy and a little crispy. The wedges were really plain but the ranch with hot sauce added some flavor to it. Chef Montes did mention that the wedges already came oven baked, prepackaged which he then bakes.

The chicken tenders were made from a whole chicken muscle. The chicken tenders were crispy and baked but compared to most restaurants, the tenders seemed a little mushier than crispy. It tasted very much like what chicken should taste and had the average amount of seasoning but however, it was not my #1 pick. The chef also brought us pulled pork which was all made from scratch. The pork was on the same tray as the coleslaw which I also didn’t try. I’m not much of a fan and it didn’t really appeal to me.

Overall, the food was tasty and good enough for a school lunch. Next time I don’t bring lunch from home, I will most definitely buy food from the cafeteria. There are variety of food offered here at BHS such as salads, sandwiches, pasta, etc. The lunch is different at each 7 stations offered so it makes it easier to eat what you desire.

- Shradha Shrestha

New perspectives on school lunch

After tasting the high school’s lunch, prepared by Julio Montes, my perspective on school lunches changed. The whole wheat buffalo chicken pizza was mildly spicy with just the right amount of perfectly cooked chicken on top. The whole wheat dough was surprisingly crisp and did not taste much different from the regular white pizza dough that most people are accustomed too.

Next on my list to try was the baked chicken strips and fries. The chicken tenders were crisp on the outside but impeccably soft on the inside, the way chicken tenders should be made. The fries, on the other hand, were soft on the inside and out but were warm like they just came out of an oven, which is a personal preference.

Finally there was the salad which was surprisingly very colorful and full of vegetables. On top of the crunchy iceberg lettuce laid red bell peppers and green cucumbers, and then I had many different choices of dressings. I went with the homemade vinaigrette.There was a perfect balance between the oil and other ingredients that were added to the dressing.

- Maria Quagliano