Parasole chef leading local students toward White House kitchen

Parasole head corporate chef Todd Bolton may soon have the opportunity to make lunch for the first lady in the White House’s kitchen.

Bolton, collaborating with a group of students from the South Education Center Alternative Program (SECA) in Richfield, has advanced to the finals of Michele Obama’s “Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge” on the strength of his Porcupine Sliders.

The contest invited school district teams from across the country to develop creative, nutritious and kid-approved recipes that schools can easily incorporate into National School Lunch Program menus.

Bolton’s son is a student at SECA. Last fall, a school secretary called him to ask if he’d serve as the “food service professional” on SECA’s team.

“It’s funny — my son is a student there, so when I first got the call about the competition, my immediate assumption was, ‘oh no, what did he do?’” Bolton said.

Over the course of a few sessions last fall and winter, Bolton and his students came up with a recipe for Porcupine Sliders: mini turkey burgers made with spinach, dried cranberries and brown rice served on toasted multigrain rolls with lettuce and tomato.

“It really was an open brainstorming collaborative thing,” Bolton said. “The trick here wasn’t really creating a healthy meal — you can do that pretty easily — the trick is creating something you can expect kids to eat.”

The Porcupine Sliders proved to be a huge hit (to commemorate the success of Bolton’s team, they can be purchased at Parasole’s Good Earth restaurants in Edina and Roseville). In March, Bolton and his students were visited by Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) staff and judges, who deemed the sliders to be one of the three best dishes in the entire competition.

“I can’t stress enough how great the kids were when the judges came — they blew me away,” Bolton said. “The kids did the presentation, demoed the food for the judges and everything. It was just amazing.”

Next month, Bolton and his team will travel to Dallas to compete against the two remaining competitors as part of an event at the American Culinary Federation National Convention. If they win, they’ll travel to the White House and make some sliders for Mrs. Obama.

“We’ll make a few extra too, just in case Barack, Sasha and Malia haven’t had lunch,” Bolton said.

Ultimately, Bolton viewed his involvement as nothing more than a great opportunity to hopefully get some kids interested in cooking. But he said that as soon as he tasted the sliders, he had a sneaking suspicion that his team might advance deep into the competition.

“I didn’t get into this to win one for the team, but it is a really good product,” Bolton said. “I went into it to try and remove some of the barriers that a lot of people feel about cooking for whatever reason, to get some kids interested in it.”

Reach Aaron Rupar at [email protected]