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This California school hired a big-name chef who's trading the dreary menu for delicacies

2023-01-25T03:44:50.682Z

“School canteens should look like restaurants, not fast food chains,” says Josh Gjersand, who used to serve up wagyu steaks and caviar in exclusive Michelin-starred eateries but now seeks to transform the culture of low-quality, reheated school meals.



By Jocelyn Gecker -

The Associated Press

At lunchtime at a San Francisco, California high school, freshman Anahi Nava Flores enjoys a baguette sandwich with Toscano salami, Monterey Jack cheese, arugula, and a handmade basil spread.

"This pesto aioli is good," he is heard saying.

Meanwhile, his partner Kentaro Turner devours a hunk of pastrami on sour dough bread and

slow-cooked chicken in chipotle broth, with Spanish rice.

“Everything is delicious,” says Turner

These are not common expressions among students at lunchtime in America's school cafeterias.

But the food served in the Mount Diablo Unified school system outside San Francisco reflects a growing trend: More and more schools are moving away from low-quality, mass-produced reheated meals.

Cafeteria menus in this district are packed with California-grown fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meats, and recipes that defy the stereotype of dreary school food.

Chef Josh Gjersand prepares a fresh sandwich for students at Mount Diablo High School, in Concord, Calif., Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. AP

Among American students,

students from this district are a fortunate minority.

Preparing fresh meals requires significant investment

and a change in the way school kitchens operate.

Federal money for school lunches has decreased.

Last year, the government ended a pandemic program that offered free school meals to all.

Some states like California have been paying to keep those meals free, but most have gone back to charging nearly all kids for snacks.

BBQ ribs and brioche

bread

Increased funding from the California state government has made it possible for the Mount Diablo district to purchase fresher, local ingredients and has hired Chef Josh Gjersand, a renowned cook trained in Michelin-starred restaurants.

Local farms, bakeries and fishmongers now supply most of the ingredients for the district, which serves 30,000 students from low-income and affluent communities east of San Francisco.

On a recent January morning, students were trying out Gjersand's latest creations.

Their specials of the day range from barbecue ribs to fresh snapper on whole wheat brioche bun.

Students throw away their unfinished lunch at Yavapai Elementary School in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Dec. 12, 2022. AP

“I love the idea of ​​serving students better food,” says Gjersand, who during the pandemic left restaurants where he used to serve upscale wagyu steaks and caviar.

"School canteens should look like restaurants, not fast food chains."

Few schools can afford a nutritious menu

School systems in other parts of the country can only dream of offerings like this.

“Economically, we're dying,”

says Patti Bilbrey, director of nutrition for the Scottsdale Unified School District in Arizona.

The district charges students $2.85 for lunch, but that amount is no longer nearly enough to cover expenses.

Staff shortages make it impossible to cook more fresh food, he said.

The school relies on mass produced food that is delivered and then reheated.

Pizzas, for example, that "come ready and you just have to bake them".

[These are the 10 products most affected by inflation in 2022: what is the reason and when will the price drop?]

Some students value the food positively.

“I eat chicken every day.

It's my favorite," says Hunter Kimble, a sixth-grader at Tonalea High School, where nearly 80% of students continue to qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Araceli Canales, an eighth grader, is more critical.

The school serves an orange chicken that she says gives her the creeps.

“The meat is a funny color,” she says.

Learn how to prepare healthy, delicious and nutritious lunch boxes for back to school

Aug 15, 202204:34

Not many schools can afford a

gourmet

offering like Mount Diablo, which also benefits from California's year-round crops.

But school menus in many places have improved in the past decade, with fresher ingredients and more ethnic dishes, School Nutrition Association spokeswoman Diane Pratt-Heavner said.

The pandemic, however, created new obstacles.

In a national survey of 1,230 school nutrition directors, nearly all said the rising cost of food and supplies was their top challenge this year.

Over 90% said they were facing staffing and supply chain shortages.

Students select food at a self-service counter during lunch at the Tonalea K-8 school in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Dec. 12, 2022. AP

The Nutrition Association survey also revealed an increase in student debt at schools that have returned to charging for meals.

The association has urged Congress to resume free breakfast and lunch nationwide.

“This is the worst and fastest debt buildup I have seen in my 12 years working in school nutrition,” said Angela Richey, director of nutrition for the Roseville and St Anthony-New Brighton school districts in Minnesota, which serve about 9,400 students.

They don't turn away a hungry child, but this year the school meal debt has exceeded $90,000, growing at a rate of more than $1,000 a day.

Making food from scratch is not only healthier, but also cheaper, many school nutrition directors say.

But that is only possible when schools have kitchens.

The abandonment of school kitchens began in the 1980s, ushering in an era of mass-produced and processed school foods.

Pre-cooked meals supplied by food service companies allowed schools to do without full-time kitchens and cafeteria staff.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2023-01-25

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