by Fanny Fuller Malarkey, Special to the Carbolic Smoke Ball
SPOKESWOMAN FOR LUNCH LADIES LOCAL 57 TELLS KIDS TO EXPECT 'ALL KINDS OF CULINARY SURPRISES THIS YEAR'
UNION REP SAYS CAFETERIA HAS BEEN COOKING UP NEW MENU ITEMS ALL SUMMER
PITTSBURGH -- Ida Orebaum arrives just on time for our exclusive interview, and won't say a word to me until it's noon on the nose.
A disciplined woman who graduated from the Canadian School of Cafeteria Arts, she knows it's a major breach of lunch lady protocol to 'open up' even one second sooner than scheduled.
Dressed in her starched uniform blues, sporting a hairnet and neatly trimmed mustache, it's easy to mistake her for the crazy lady who lives on your block. But once you catch glimpse of that tell-tale gravy stain on her white apron, you know: this woman is a lunch lady.
But don't call her that, please.
"We prefer to be referred to by our professional name, Institutional Chefs, thank you very much."
According to Orebaum, who represents hundreds of thousands of 'Institutional Chefs' across the United States and parts of the Virgin Islands, school children should be pleasantly surprised with the offerings they've spent all summer concocting at their annual convention, which was going to be held in Pittsburgh, but moved to Cleveland over concerns that the David Lawrence structure would be unable to support the weight of the collective group.
"A typical chef might want to put more 'sloppy' in the 'sloppy Joe,' but we think outside the lunchbox," she says, laughing at her joke and frankly, scaring me a bit. "What we did was put more 'Joe' in the 'sloppy,'" which frightened me even more, so I didn't press the question.
"We even figured out a way to make one of our most popular and healthy dishes, the 'Walking Taco' -- a bag of Doritos with ground beef ladled on and topped with cheese -- actually walk. I can't tell you how we did it, because then I'd have to kill you," Orebaum cackles.
I adjust my seat and move back just a bit.
Orebaum explains that they even came up with "movie-themed" entrees, and believe they'll have their own blockbuster with "Silence of the Lambs," which is a roasted leg of lamb rubbed in a special blend of herbs and served with mint jelly. "The moths, are of course, optional," she adds.
This signature dish inspired a host of other Pittsburgh-filmed, movie-theme dishes, including, "The Mothman Prophecies," which Orebaum says is self-explanatory, and "The Dominick and Eugene," which is a "clever recycling of what we might otherwise toss as garbage," says Orebaum.
Orebaum explains that the dishes will be used all over the country (and parts of the Virgin Islands), which will help promote the city in a unique way.
It's 12:30 and Orebaum reminds me that our lunch is over and I had better empty my tray and take it back to the dishroom.