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Headline: Standardized recipes cook up satisfying meals, on illustration of paper and rolling pin and ladel.The best recipe for serving satisfying meals to TDCJ employees and offenders statewide is to follow preparation specifications to the letter: No adding a pinch of this or a dash of that. That’s the idea behind a new move to standardize food recipes throughout the agency’s correctional institutions.

“The object of this whole exercise is to be able to eat high quality spaghetti and meatballs at the Dalhart Unit and travel down to the Lopez and Segovia units and eat spaghetti and meatballs of the same high quality,” said Tony D’Cunha, assistant director for Laundry, Food & Supply. “What we’re trying to do is raise the bar statewide, putting the emphasis on quality and customer service.”

While correctional practices have long been standardized, TDCJ kitchen captains have not had a uniform set of recipes to work from in the past, D’Cunha said.

“I don’t think we have ever had a standard set of recipes systemwide,” he said. “Everyone did their own thing. And when the system was small, it was probably easier to monitor. But when we had the expansion (in the 1990s), for the most part, kitchen captains were on their own.”

D’Cunha, who took over Laundry, Food & Supply last June, found that dishes supposedly made from identical ingredients tasted differently from unit to unit.

Redding and Oliphant scooping food onto their plates in the food line
UTMB dietician K. Reddy, right, and Laundry, Food & Supply administrative employee Benny Oliphant sample dishes prepared from new standard recipes at the Byrd Unit in Huntsville.
Photo by David Nunnelee
“One of the first things that struck me in eating at the units was that the food was either very good, okay, or not very good,” he said. “It became evident that there were well over 90 kitchens cooking food 90 different ways. It was all over the scale.”

To come up with a standard set of easy-to-follow recipes for TDCJ cooks, D’Cunha enlisted the help of the Texas National Guard, which sent him a long list of standardized recipes used by the U.S. Army for the preparation of entrees. He then formed a working group of kitchen captains from throughout the state to narrow the list by selecting only those that could be prepared with the raw materials already warehoused by the agency. The dishes prepared from the recipes were then sampled at different facilities by a diverse group of diners that included non-uniformed administrators, unit wardens, correctional officers and offenders.

“The feedback we got was real positive,” D’Cunha said. “I can honestly say that some of the recipes we tasted were probably the best I’ve eaten in the penitentiary and are comparable to a restaurant on the outside. What we found out through this process was that the Army feeds its employees really well.”

D’Cunha said what makes the Army recipes so appetizing is their simplicity.

“What became apparent fairly quickly was the simplicity of these Army recipes,” he said. “All of the recipes are based on feeding 100 portions, so if you have 2,500 people, all you do is multiply whatever is on that recipe by 25. So what this is doing is taking a lot of the guesswork out. It isn’t just a matter of throwing in more salt. These recipes are really precise.”

But in some cases, the Army recipes had to be altered to appeal to the taste of Texans.

“A good example is the Army taco,” D’Cunha explained. “It was something that just wouldn’t fly in Texas, so we had to Tex-Mex it up a bit.”

And the taste of Texas, including the flavor of vegetables grown in unit gardens, could well find its way into other correctional food courses.

“We’ve encouraged all our kitchen captains to share their recipes with us,” D’Cunha said. “And if we have a better way of doing it than the Army does, we’ll certainly look at that. It’s not exclusively Army. It’s just whatever works best.”

Entrees made from some 30 standardized recipes, including tuna casserole, chicken al a king, and Mexican-style pork chops, started showing up in TDCJ dining halls in February. Side dishes and desserts also made from standardized recipes are expected to follow.

Meanwhile, to train offenders and kitchen personnel in preparing meals from the standardized recipes, the agency is launching a pilot Culinary Arts Training Program at the Eastham Unit in Lovelady for male offenders and the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville for female offenders. The first-of-its-kind program offered through Lee College and the Windham School District is expected to span three to six months.

“I want to bring in offenders who are already working in our kitchens statewide for these classes,” D’Cunha said. “I also want to send our current kitchen personnel and our new Food Service employees.”

D’Cunha said he sees the standardized recipes and training program as a win-win situation for TDCJ. Offenders get trained in a job skill and get to consume quality food, a key ingredient in the building and maintaining of good morale and institutional behavior. And it comes at no additional cost to the agency.

“We don’t look at any additional cost because we’ve got all the raw materials. All this program is designed to do is train our personnel, he said.”

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The Sunset Review

of the Texas Department

of Criminal Justice, Board

of Pardons and Paroles,

and Correctional Managed

Health Care Committee

The mission and performance of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Correctional Managed Health Care Committee are currently being reviewed by the Legislature as required under the Texas Sunset Act. The Act provides that the Sunset Commission, composed of legislators and public members, periodically evaluate a state agency to determine if the agency is still needed, and what improvements are needed to ensure that state funds are well spent. Based on the recommendations of the Sunset Commission, the Texas Legislature ultimately decides whether an agency continues to operate into the future.

The Sunset review involves three steps. First, Sunset Commission staff will evaluate the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Correctional Managed Health Care Committee and, in September 2006, will issue a report recommending solutions to problems found. The Sunset Commission will then meet to hear public testimony on these entities and the recommendations of the Sunset staff. This meeting is scheduled for November 14 and 15, 2006. Based on public input and the Sunset staff report, the Sunset Commission will adopt recommendations for the full Legislature to consider when it convenes in January 2007.

Through the Sunset review, every Texan has the opportunity to suggest ways in which the mission and operations of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Correctional Managed Health Care Committee can be strengthened. However, the Sunset Commission and its staff do not have the authority to look at individual cases regarding an incarceration with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, or the consideration of parole by the Board of Pardons and Paroles. If you would like to share your ideas about these entities, please contact Jennifer Jones of the Sunset staff. Suggestions are preferred by June 1, 2006, so they can be fully considered by the Commission staff.

Sunset Advisory Commission
P.O. Box 13066
Austin, Texas 78711
Fax: 512/463-0705

Information about the Sunset process, including information on Sunset Commission meetings, can be found at:

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