Hamilton freshmen get a Mexican culinary experience with popular chef

Principal seeks ‘fun and engaging experiences’ that showcase diversity of students.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Hamilton City School’s culinary trip around the world made a stop in Mexico with Chef Jonathan Zaragoza.

The district, through its food service provider Chartwells K12, has focused on providing its students with culinary and dietary experiences, from the Discovery Kitchen and Mood Boost in the elementary schools to the Global Eats program at the middle, freshman and high schools.

Zaragoza spent lunch with the students at the Hamilton High School Freshman campus on Thursday, showcasing some specially crafted dishes for the Global Eats program. He’s been working on menu items with Chartwells and Global Eats for about two years, fusing food and culture.

“I don’t think we can talk about food without talking about culture, and that goes across the globe,” said the owner of Birrieria Zaragoza and El Oso restaurants in Chicago. “Specifically in Mexico, we have seven different regions of Mexican food that’s recognized by the government, and within those seven regions, it gets so nuanced and very specific. We definitely touch on those things with these kids.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Zaragoza is an acclaimed chef working at Michelin-rated restaurants and has traveled to Mexico, learning more about his culinary heritage and traditions, which he has brought coast-to-coast in the United States, as well as to London, Dubai and Paris. Being a part of the Global Eats program, which goes to schools around the country, is “a sense of pride” for Zaragoza, and he hopes what he shared on Thursday “resonates with at least a couple of them,” and if it did, he calls that “a win for us.”

“I feel like working on these recipes ― it’s been like two years working on these recipes with Global Eats ― for me, it’s a challenge to make them healthier because chefs like salt, we like the butter, but we have to remember that these kids need a little bit of a healthier diet so they can get that clean energy during the day,” said Zaragoza, whose restaurant Birrieria Zaragoza in Chicago was showcased in season three of the Netflix series Taco Chronicles.

The menu the freshmen were able to sample included Ham Torta, Spiced Mangos, Cucumber Avacado Jicama Salsa, and his popular Brisket Tacos, which he demonstrated to the students how to make.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Past Global Eats programs included culinary trips to Italy, China and India, and this school year students will also get to experience the Caribbean and Korea.

Hamilton High School Freshman campus Principal Ty Smallwood said bringing these kinds of experiences is part of the school’s future-focused and future-ready model.

“For us, we try to bring diversity to our school. I want to make sure all students have an opportunity to see themselves in the future, and Jonathan is really going to provide a cool glimpse at what that looks like,” he said. “Hamilton has a large Hispanic population, and we want to make sure we embrace that diversity.”

Smallwood said trying to create “fun and engaging experiences” for students post-COVID has been a challenge, but added they have many kids who are excited to be in school every day as their attendance “is at an all-time high.”

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