Sam Kass and Chopped Competitors Wow ANC Attendees

July 17, 2012 – Earlier today at SNA’s 2012 Annual National Conference (ANC) in Denver, basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal welcomed attendees by video at the Second General Session. O’Neal commended attendees for their hard work and for finding innovative ways to create healthier meals for kids. He also urged everyone to be healthy role models for children by exercising and eating right.

Next, featured keynote speakers, Sam Kass, White House assistant chef and senior policy advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives, and Phil Lempert, food advocate and media personality, who together discussed how initiatives like the First Lady’s Let’s Move! and Chefs Move to Schools campaign are helping to open eyes to the innovations and opportunities in school meal programs across the country.

They also discussed Kass’ experiences as a guest judge on the episode “Class Acts” of The Food Network’s Chopped television program, a cooking show that emphasizes skill, speed and ingenuity. The audience was shown several clips from the emotional episode that featured four school nutrition professionals and which Kass described as “an amazing moment” and a really powerful moment for him personally.

"In my mind, you guys are heroes. You are truly heroes and you're serving this country and you're serving our kids," said Kass.

Before anyone knew what was happening, Lempert introduced three of the four contestants from the episode— Rhonda DeLoatch, head chef and foodservice director, Common Ground Environmental Charter High School, New Haven, Conn.; Dianne Houlihan, then assistant cook/manager at Great Neck Elementary, Waterford, Conn.; and Arlene Leggio, cook/manager at Islip High School, Long Island, N.Y.

Upon seeing the contestants, the room erupted with applause for the “cafeteria wonder women,” who participated in what School Nutrition recently described as “the single-most positive and inspiring portrayal of school nutrition professionals ever to be broadcast on television.”

It took several minutes for things to calm down, and then Lempert and Kass chatted with the ladies about their experiences on the show, inquiring what would they do differently and would they participate in the program again.

It was obvious by the audience’s reaction that they were inspired and affected, giving everyone an overwhelming sense of renewed pride for the important work they do every day.

"Every day you make a difference. Just be proud of what you do and keep on doing it. Just keep fighting the battle. And just keep loving it the way I do and all our kids will be so grateful," said Dianne Houlihan.

Attendees will have the chance to meet and have their picture taken with the Chopped contestants Rhonda DeLoatch, Dianne Houlihan and Arlene Leggio at the Culinary Demonstration given by McCormick For Chefs on Wednesday, July 18, from 10:30-11:15 am.

Prior to Tuesday’s general session, ANC attendees enjoyed a productive day of professional development, with education sessions on everything from “Choose MyPlate for School Nutrition” and “Avoiding a Showdown: Successfully Working With Your Inspector,” to “Take Your Career to the Next Level with SNA Certification” and “Get the Word Out: Communicating During Food Recalls.”

Can’t get enough ANC excitement? Join SNA on Facebook and @SchoolLunch on Twitter to be part of the conference buzz—or simply add hashtag #ANC12 to your tweets and be part of the conference Twitter stream. Also, check out conference photos on Flickr at

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