As a former teacher and dad of two, Isidoro Fattore saw first-hand that school lunches weren’t giving kids proper nutrition. “Everything was processed. And it became more processed because of the Michelle Obama initiative,” he recalls. “Schools aren’t set up to cook from scratch. Large corporations make it easier by providing packaged food that tells how much fat and how many calories it has, and all the school has to do is stick it in the microwave. But it’s more processed that way.” Fattore, who worked in his family’s restaurant for 15 years, decided to take matters into his own hands by launching Cognitive Cuisine.
The company, based in Fattore’s hometown of Hopewell Junction, provides students with healthy, homemade lunches prepared by professional chefs — no processing allowed. “There’s no chemistry involved in anything we make,” he says. “For instance, our chicken nuggets are not ground-up cartilage filled with ammonia and artificial flavoring. We buy whole chickens, cut them up, bread them, and bake them.” All dishes are kid-friendly (“I used my daughters as test subjects a lot,” laughs Fattore); the company usually prepares healthier versions of items — tacos, pork-fried rice, and chicken fingers, among others — that children are already accustomed to seeing in the cafeteria.
To order, parents log on to the company’s Web site, select the meals their child wants to eat (the descriptions include detailed nutrition and allergy information), and pay — from $3 to $6.50 per meal. “We’re trying to keep the price at what parents are used to paying,” Fattore says. The lunch is delivered directly to the school provided it is located within a 90-minute drive from Hopewell Junction. Lunches can be ordered from 48 hours or up to two weeks in advance; if the student gets sick or has a snow day, the order can be canceled by 8 a.m. in the morning for a full refund.
The schools themselves also can buy food to be served to the entire student body. So far only private and parochial schools — Fattore cites Poughkeepsie’s Holy Trinity and a charter school in Newburgh as examples — have participated; public schools, he says, sometimes see his service as competition for their existing cafeteria programs. “But we’re consulting with a few public schools,” he says. “We’ll give them recipes and hopefully get them away from processed food.”
And although his enterprise is just a year old, Fattore is opening a storefront this month, where he’ll sell his meals frozen: Parents can pick one up after work, pop it in the oven, and serve a healthy (and unprocessed) dinner.