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Local Celebrity Chef Shows Students that Great Meals Come from Good Foods

Chef Jose Velez Brings a Bit of Toscania Trattoria to Lincoln School

Students Emily Fusco and Isabel Voca assist Chef Jose Velez at Lincoln School
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He has cooked for presidents Bush and Clinton, and with well-known chefs Bobby Flay and Robert Irvine, and on Monday, May 2, celebrity Chef Jose Velez demonstrated his cooking expertise for the students, teachers and staff at Lincoln Elementary School, Caldwell.

The chef and owner of Toscania Trattoria in Little Falls, N.J., Velez agreed to visit the school after hearing about the Team Up to Veg Out Program. Developed and run by school nurse Maryann Ciesla and first grade teacher Carol Macken, the Team Up to Veg Out Program is the result of a grant awarded to Ciesla and Macken, designed to encourage healthy eating in students and encourage families to live healthy lifestyles.

Velez, a believer in fresh produce and cooking for the season, agreed to stop by, share some cooking tips and show the students some of the dishes that can be made with the vegetables that they have been learning about and trying in school as part of the Team Up to Veg Out Program. While chopping, mixing and cooking, Velez spoke to the children about how he shops for his restaurant, buying the fresh vegetables and fruits daily from local farmers, and preparing dishes only from the foods in season.

Velez’s career has taken him from the Culinary Institute of America where he trained as a chef, to cooking in the White House for both Presidents Bush and Clinton to New York City’s elegant Rihga Royal Hotel. Under his leadership, a team of chefs won the Gold Medal in Great Britain at the prestigious “Salon Culinaire International de Londres” as well as winning individual Gold Medals in New York City’s Societe Culinaire Philanthropique. His recipes have been featured on television and newspapers as well as cookbooks.

As Velez spoke to the children about his cooking beliefs and habits, he tested their knowledge, holding up vegetables for identification, including beets and artichokes, and challenged the students to create a list of vegetables for every letter in the alphabet. Those that created the list and e-mailed it to the chef would be put into a drawing for dinner at the Little Falls restaurant.

With the help of several students, Velez cooked up a quick batch of Ratatouille, sharing it with the students, Ciesla and Macken.

“Chef Jose knows how to make healthy foods taste good,” said third grader Kristin Shiuey. “Some people don’t even like healthy foods, but they may try new things if Chef Jose cooks for them.”

Added first grader Sean Haas, “I liked the different vegetables that Chef Jose brought and I liked the smell of the food he cooked too!”

Velez began his career at The Marquis, Times Square’s largest hotel, creating unique menus for VIP clientele and designing events for The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, The Tony Awards, and the James Beard Gala among other events of note. Velez also served as Executive Chef at the Seaview Resort and Spa – a four Diamond Resort, where he organized “The Taste of the LPGA Invitational,” and was honored with the Five Star Diamond Award for culinary and service excellence. During his tenure as Executive Chef at Rod’s Steak & Seafood Grille, Morristown, the restaurant won New Jersey Monthly's 'Best Steakhouse' award, the Open Table Diners' Choice Award for Best Steakhouse in Northern New Jersey, and Best Special Occasion Restaurant. More recently, Velez competed in and won the Morristown Iron Chef Competition, and made a guest appearance on the Food Network’s “Big Daddy’s House” and was named Chef of the Month for North Jersey 2010.

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