Throughout the 2019–2020 school year, our new We Are DOE series will highlight some of the everyday heroes of NYC’s public schools. Featuring a cross-section of the DOE’s 140,000+ employees across the five boroughs, We Are DOE will showcase some of the many unsung heroes who help keep the largest school system in the country running daily.
For our second-ever We Are DOE feature, please welcome District 1’s School Food Supervisor, Larbi Malajati.
“I t’s a big day for everybody when we have chicken on the menu!” says Larbi Malajati, supervisor of the DOE’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services for District 1 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. “Chicken is definitely the favorite item for our students. They really love it.”
Larbi started as an assistant food supervisor with the DOE in 2004 and was promoted to supervisor five years later. Over that time, he has been involved in launching many innovations intended to make the school system’s food both more appetizing and nutritious.
Those changes include providing breakfasts in classrooms, many more salad bars, trucks offering free food to children over the summer, and much higher nutritional standards. In contrast to the past, the DOE now has far stricter restrictions on high fructose corn syrup and additives like artificial colors, preservatives, and flavoring.
Larbi says, “What we do is really important. Supporting students with delicious and nutritious meals helps them do well in school. We provide something really essential in a student’s day.”
“One of the most interesting things I’ve observed is that even if there’s resistance to a new food item we introduce, that can change. We have increasingly offered plant-based vegetarian items that students will resist at first but over time actually become quite popular. Sometimes it takes a little patience.”
– Larbi Malajati, Food Services Supervisor
Although Larbi’s district is one of the smallest in New York City, he and his team of about 130 professionals still serve more than 3,000 breakfasts and almost 7,000 lunches each day in 22 schools. Across the entire New York City school system, more than 9,000 chefs and kitchen staff prepare 900,000 meals each day.
Part of Larbi’s job is to conduct site visits to check on the cleanliness of cooking and dining facilities while asking administrators about any concerns or preferences they might have. He also watches how efficiently the service line is moving and regularly asks students about what they like and don’t like.
“One of the most interesting things I’ve observed is that even if there’s resistance to a new food item we introduce, that can change,” Larbi says. “We have increasingly offered plant-based vegetarian items that students will resist at first but over time actually become quite popular.”
He adds with a smile: “Sometimes it takes a little patience.”
We thank Larbi and the thousands of other DOE personnel who help provide over 900,000 free and nutritious meals to students every school day.
Together, We Are DOE.