Students in Bergen County Make Food Magic for Cancer Patients

Taco Ravioli. Peanut Butter Cran-Jelly. Carrot Raspberry Ice Cream. Pompeii Soup.

These aren’t nouveau cuisine available from top chefs at a four-star restaurant. They’re a few of foods created by high school students who designed them to fit the palates and nutritional needs of child cancer patients

I had the chance meet these student-chefs when I visited the Culinology program at the Teterboro, N.J., campus of the Bergen County Technical High School.

Even though I met the students and their teachers the day before their December holiday break, Principal David Tankard reassured they were looking forward to meeting me, not just the vacation ahead. “They want to be here,” he told me. “They love to have the opportunity to share their work.”

Upon entering the brightly painted workspace to meet 18 students in elegant black shirts, ready to present their research and findings, I knew he was right.

Culinology is a discipline that blends the culinary arts and food science. Students study the advanced science and technology of food production and use that knowledge to invent their own food products. Science teachers, seasoned chefs and technology faculty collaborate to provide students with both theoretical and practical knowledge. Strong relationships with partners (Rutgers University, Hackensack University Medical Center and The Research Chefs Association, whose education committee approved the program) enhance the program.

Teacher-Chef Dominic Branda offered me a delicious cup of coffee and presented a selection of student-made pastries while the student teams prepared their presentations. The teams taught me about their research creating suitable foods for children going through chemotherapy. Such children often lack appetite and may have sores in their mouths, they said. Still, it’s essential to create soothing foods that provide nutrients for young palates.

Soup“We’re still children,” one chef told me, “so we still know what tastes good to them.”

A group of young men took the floor to present their creation. “Our soup is based on the volcano at Pompeii,” one informed me. “It’s packed with nutrition and is also an aesthetically pleasing comfort food. Each item in the soup represents an item from the site – trees, lava and volcanic wreckage – so this way the children learn some history while they eat.”

“Our reduced sugar Carrot Raspberry Ice Cream is cold on the children’s throats,” a student informed me, her open face showing sincere compassion.

A classmate added, “When you can’t eat, you just want something that’s magic inside.”

“That’s all part of this,” said Principal Tankard. “The students are really engaged in service to the community and are motivated by the fact that their work will help the children in treatment.”

I left the school visit feeling inspired. These high school chefs and their teachers teach all of us about the magic that happens when powerful teams learn and work together.

Maryann Woods-Murphy 

Maryann Woods-Murphy is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches Spanish in Allendale, NJ. She is also the 2009-2010 New Jersey Teacher of the Year.

Read Secretary Arne Duncan’s 2010 remarks about the importance of A Well-Rounded Curriculum.


  1. First, I want to preface my comment by saying I came across this after composing a letter to President Obama regarding my opposition to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. I searched a way to contact Arne Duncan and this is the first website I came to. Anyway, I think this is WONDERFUL! I mean what an AWESOME learning experience and something these students will remember for the rest of their lives! However . . . how does this correlate to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top? How will this help students master a standardized test? It won’t!! Which is exactly why I protest No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top! This is an example of a great learning opportunity! I only wish my public school child would have an opportunity to do something hands on like this instead of standardized test preparation! This experience and learning cannot and will not be included on a standardized test! How ironic this supports my claim that No Child left Behind and Race to the Top need to end AND it’s found on the Dept of Ed website?!

  2. Real Life applications in learning make all the difference. These kids are difference makers. These types of learning opportunities are the catalyst for success down the road. KUDOS to an inspiring group of young minds.

  3. What an inspirational story that benefits everyone involved in this program. Not only are the student chefs learning how to cook and the chemistry/science behind the nutritional value of their dishes, they are learning compassion and empathy. WOW!

  4. Amazing! Teaching kids the power they have to help and affect others lives, the most valuable lesson to learn.

  5. This REALLY touches home! This is so beautiful because most Oncology patients loose their appetites due to their treatments. They really need good nutritious good that is easy for them to eat! Fabulous work! 🙂

Comments are closed.