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updated: 9/4/2012 10:55 AM

Healthy, creative and fun part of menu for kids, adults

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  • Chef Troy Tornabeni is working for better school lunches not only for his 7-year-old daughter but for students everywhere.

      Chef Troy Tornabeni is working for better school lunches not only for his 7-year-old daughter but for students everywhere.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Chef Troy Tornabeni sautes some vegetables in the kitchen at Stonebridge Country Club in Aurora.

      Chef Troy Tornabeni sautes some vegetables in the kitchen at Stonebridge Country Club in Aurora.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

By Abby Scalf

Troy Tornabeni has demonstrated his culinary skills at restaurants across the suburbs.

He has cooked at Davis Street Fish Market in Evanston, Connie's Pizza in Bridgeport, Fairbanks Steakhouse at the Hollywood Casino and St. Andrews Golf and Country Club in West Chicago. Now, he's running the kitchen and creating the menu as executive chef at Stonebridge Country Club in Aurora.

And while he's adept at plating multicourse dinners for banquets and fundraisers, he hasn't lost focus on the eating habits of the youngest diners, like his 7-year-old daughter Natalie, who walk through the lunch line in the school cafeteria.

Tornabeni participated in Lunch Break for School fundraiser earlier this year. Organized by makers of Hidden Valley salad dressings in partnership with the American Culinary Federation's Chef and Child Foundation, the event encouraged chefs across the country to create and serve healthy lunch items with proceeds benefiting the foundation's education programs.

What is your earliest food memory? My earliest food memory would be of my mother cooking spaghetti and ragu Napolitano when I was 3 or 4 years old when we lived in Romeoville. She has always been a great cook and that memory will always be with me because of how great that sauce was.

What led you to becoming a chef? Who are your earliest culinary influences? I would have to say my mother and my grandmother. The feasts they would make for our family were so great from sauerkraut and pork chops to chorizo and eggs on Sunday mornings. It always seemed so special how the entire family would show up for Sunday dinner and watch the Chicago Bears, and my mother and grandmother would be cooking all day sometimes for 20 to 30 people out of their little home kitchens.

What do you remember eating in the school cafeteria? I went to school in Lisle. It seemed that pizza puffs, cheeseburger and fries and chicken patty sandwiches were the norm.

What do you pack for your daughter's lunches? We usually try to give her fresh, organic options in her lunch sack as well as organic and minimally processed lunch meats.

Tell us about your participation with Lunch Break for Schools? I remember how bad the cafeteria food was when I was in grade school. I have a daughter now and I prefer she did not eat the things that were given to us at my school. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in our country. Healthy eating needs to start with them now.

What lunch items did you create for the event? The event was funded by Hidden Valley Ranch, so it was key to incorporate Hidden Valley Ranch into the recipe. I did a ranch rubbed flat iron steak with smoked heirloom carrot purée, grilled fingerling potatoes and ancho-cabernet reduction.

How was your dish received when it was served at the country club? Everyone seemed to really like it. We tried to use as much vegetables in place of starch. It was nice and light. We should make an effort to serve healthy food that is tasty.

What are the keys to making a child's lunch that the child will not only eat but be healthy too? It has to be fun for them as well as delicious. Too many times as chefs and home cooks, we give in to easy and give them the mac n' cheese, chicken fingers and french fries. We have to think outside the box.

Tell us about this recipe: Confit of Berkshire Pork Belly with House-made Pickles, Buttermilk Onions, Cheddar and Alabama Barbecue Sauce. I created this recipe for the club to replace the played out pulled pork Sandwich. As good as a pulled pork sandwich is, it has been done. I wanted to give the members something that would be familiar, yet bring a different level of flavor to their palettes. I have used this sandwich for everything from lunch service to golf outings to after dinner snacks for a wedding. Seems to be a new favorite.

Try this at home or at Stonebridge Country Club, 2705 Stonebridge Blvd., Aurora. (630) 820-8887.

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