National Farm to School Conference, Burlington Vermont

Ann spoke at the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Burlington, Vermont August 4, 2012, where she met Janet Poppendieck, pictured here on the left, the author of “Free for All: Fixing School Food in America” (University of California Press, 2010) and among other titles such as “Sweet Charity” and “Bread Lines Knee Deep in Wheat”. Janet has agreed to write a guest blog for “Who’s Cooking School Lunch?” in the near future.

National Farm to School Conference

Ann’s speech follows, which she delivered as a part of a panel on COOKING SEASONAL FOODS: PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR FOOD SERVICE STAFF, with Moderator: Gail Feenstra, Food Systems Coordinator at University of California Sustainable Agriculture, Research and Education Program and Panelists: Kathy Alexander, School Nutrition Association, Vermont President and food service director; Amy Winston: NE Regional Lead Agency, national Farm to School Network, Real Food Institute of MidCoast Maine; Ann M. Evans, Principal, Evans & Brennan, Food Systems Consultants and co-author of “Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools” (2011, Center for Ecoliteracy)

Ann’s speech:

With my business partner, Georgeanne Brennan, who has run a cooking school in France and California, I teach school districts how to incorporate scratch cooking into the food they serve. We offer cooking schools for school food service.

We do this because school districts represent a strategic opportunity to change food culture in the United States; they are often the largest restaurant in their community – certainly, in Los Angeles, no other entity is serving 650,000 meals a day.

Based on four years of these classes, we developed a philosophy for adult education with school food service that worked in two diverse school districts in northern California: in Davis, a university town with a school district of about 8,000, and in Oakland, a port city with a school district with 32,000 students.

  • School food service employees not only know how to cook, they are good cooks. They are men and women who have raised or are raising a family and have been putting a meal on the table every night for years.
  • Adults learn by doing – tactile and experiential learning work best.
  • Adults need a framework to help them reorganize what they already know so they can remember.

We developed that framework, and called it 6-5-4 and used it as well as the above philosophy to write a book and set of recipes called “Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools,” which was published by the Center for Ecoliteracy in 2011 as a part of a suite of resources in its signature and internationally known program “Rethinking School Lunch.”

During my time with you today, I’m going to cover the role of professional development as part of the solution to manifesting an ideal school meal.

My ideal school meal is that it reflects the season, the geography and the history of the place. You know if you’re having school lunch in Michigan, or California, or Vermont.

It supports the local agricultural economy. Professionals process foods in-house, making stock, salad dressings, bakery items, and sauces such as pesto and tomato; professionals who are paid a living wage with benefits.

The kitchens have pantries stocked with real food. Stoves are used for more than table tops, the Hobart mixers are dusted off and used, spice grinders and citrus cutters fill the air with scents of orange and cumin.

The 6-5-4 framework is easy: Six foods kids know and love…pizza, wraps, soups, rice bowls, salads, and pasta – because if you are introducing new foods, it might as well come in a familiar package. Pizza in fall with Butternut Squash, Walnuts and Chard is still pizza for lunch.

Five flavor profiles that represent some of the world’s greatest cuisines, and as well the history of immigration in California – Latin American; African American; Indian-Middle Eastern; Asian; and European-Mediterranean.

Four Seasons.

Other consultants provide professional development on the new USDA regulations, knife skills, production cooking and so forth, all valuable and essential. We present professional development by having the food service staff cook.

We teach the five flavor profiles, as they change throughout the 4 seasons, using the six dishes kids know and love. By teaching, I mean we conduct a cooking class with a district’s food service in the afternoon for 3 hours or for a three-day period.

Here’s what happens. The school food service workers assemble around a table in a teaching kitchen or central kitchen, we present for 5-10 minutes a flavor profile using a flavor profile tray – which has the key spices, herbs, foods represented – so they can literally see it – and if there is a member of that ethnic community, we invite them up to be our “expert.” They go over the ingredients again as they like, talking about how they use them in daily cooking. We ask, “What are we missing?” And they usually have a few suggestions for us.

Then, it’s time to cook. We review the recipes – a group of 12-16 people can cook 8-10 recipes in 2 hours easily. They choose a partner to cook with a select the recipe they want to cook.

The ingredients are already purchased – we send a shopping list ahead once the recipes are worked out with the food service director. The participants take a tray and gather all their ingredients, often learning the ingredients right then for the first time, but not being told by a talking head – searching it out themselves, asking a colleague or asking us.

We go around to each team while they are cooking and answer questions, engage with them and explore what they already know or want to know.

When they are done cooking their dishes – all in one flavor profile as in the case above, or sometimes featuring a specific ingredient such as California Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or featuring one of the six dishes, such as salads (grains and greens) and house-made dressings across the five flavor profiles – they plate them out.

Everyone gathers around the table with these family size servings of high flavor dishes kids know and love – plated out on white platters if possible with garnish and a serving spoon – and then each team presents. What ingredients did they use, how did they cook it, did they taste it, do they like it, were there any problems.

One food service director told us during this portion of the class, “This is the first time I’ve ever heard my people speak in public, in fact, I think it may be the first time some of them ever have spoken in public.” And we know that to be true – but we don’t give a lecture on how to speak in public – they learn by doing and by watching their colleagues.

That same food service director, after we had the employees name the dry beans they cook at home and there were over 20 varietals, asked one of her employees, who had said she makes hummus from garbanzo beans, “what do you do?” The employee looked at her and said, “I soak them in water the night before.” The director said, “Oh, and then what?” The employee looked at her and said, “I cook them in water the next day.” The exchange was the first of its kind between them, and they sorted out that that employee would be making house-made hummus for the school district from dry beans.

After the presentation on the dishes, we serve ourselves a taste of each and sit down together to eat – usually in silence for the first 5 minutes as we are all so hungry and it is so good. Then we conduct a discussion of how they like the dishes, and whether they think the dishes would work at the elementary and or secondary levels, what might need to be modified – how they could serve it on the line, and so forth.

As Chef Stu from Yale mentioned to me yesterday, “cooking from scratch in this way provides a sense of ownership, they are not cogs in a wheel.”

So that’s the micro version. The book that we wrote, “Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools” is free, downloadable in English and Spanish, from the Center for Ecoliteracy website. And you can use it, of course, with your own state’s food.

Jennifer LeBarre, Oakland Unified School District’s Food Service Director has brought us in to provide cooking lessons to her staff, as part of the extensive work the Center for Ecoliteracy is partnering with her to recreate school lunch in Oakland. We caught up with her in February of this year to interview her for a new blog we’ve launched called – Who’s Cooking School Lunch – which tells the fascinating stories of the men and women behind the scenes who work hard to get those millions of meals to the school tables –

Jennifer told us, “One of the most powerful things about the cooking lessons is that they showed us that our staff isn’t undertrained, they are underutilized.  That’s the biggest thing. You have the perception that they don’t know how to cook because they are not cooking, but you’ve created that environment.”

She said, “The cooking classes told us how skilled they are and told our employees that we believe in them and that we care about them. No matter how good you are you can always do better. Give them more training and introduce them to new things.  That wonderful arrangement of citrus at our first class – so many didn’t know – kumquat, pomelo. Now we’ve exposed them to the different varietals of these fruits and vegetables, they are more comfortable serving them.

We know that as the employees become more self-assured they extend that to more influence on the menu.  In San Rafael, CA we recently did a three-day training, and the food service director asked her staff to choose one of the over 60 recipes they made, that they want to see on the menu this fall.

And note that every time a recipe is used, we carefully go over what can come from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service commodity program.

One more testimony – this one from Darryl W. Graves from Los Angeles Unified School District. He’s originally from Mississippi – he’s done fast food, fine dining, hospitals – and proudly told us he was the only student at Jackson State cooking – batch cooking for a college. His mother had a store next door to their house with pralines and cakes

We taught cooking lessons for two days with a group from LA, in Darryl’s kitchen where the Deputy Food Service Director, now the Interim director, David Binkle, had to go out and buy pots and pans and some knives just to be able to conduct class – which focused on incorporating California Extra Virgin Olive Oil into soups, salads, and entrée items.  Afterwards, Darryl told us, “class is really good because you get exposure to different ways of doing things. I’m a firm believer in cooking healthy.”

In closing, I want to let you know what Davis Joint Unified School District is doing, and what you can do in your regions.

Again, with many partners, including UCSAREP, we worked with the school food service over a four-year period of hands-on cooking in Davis. We took them on a “chef’s walk” with other regional chefs through our local farmers market in their chef whites (which Rafaelita Curva, Director of Nutrition Services at Davis bought them for the occasion) to see what was in season and get ideas of what to cook with it, followed by a lunch and a farm tour, we engaged them with a “show not tell” marketing strategy where they cater Chamber of Commerce luncheons with the school lunch for that day, or side by side of restaurants, serve up school soups such as the Asian Coconut Mandarin or Latin American Albondigas and entrees such as the Moroccan 7-Vegetable Tagine over Couscous served that day for lunch, and served again to a fundraiser for the community that night.

What can you do in your state/region? Here are a few tested ideas:

  • Design and create a regional school lunch menu based on what you grow;
  • Start a school lunch booster club, district-wide, that can raise funds to bring cooking lessons into your district and take the school food service to the farms;
  • Connect your school food service with the local farmers market and networks of chefs;
  • Take on the role of a “forager” for food service, introducing them to local farmers or providing the central kitchen with a CSA box they can experiment with;
  • Bring in professional development for your school food service or take them to your local university’s kitchen to work with their chefs.

In conclusion, why provide this kind of professional development, cooking lessons that are focused on food and flavors, using self-discovery and hands-on methods? Because it jumpstarts the process of changing the menu from the inside out, providing an experiential way to empower the hands, hearts, and minds of those putting the food on the lunch table every day. That to me is sustainable, a long-term investment in changing the culture of food in the United States.

Stay tuned on Who’s Cooking School Lunch for more updates.

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Oakland, California

Oakland, the other City by the Bay, is located in Alameda County, across the bay from San Francisco. It is the 5th most important port in the United States, and 40 % of California’s more than 12 billion dollar agricultural exports move through the port.  Tankers and container ships from all over the world and huge cranes fill the visual landscape of the port and its waters, crowned by the Bay Bridge, which connects Oakland and San Francisco. In its 200-year plus history, Oakland has gone through successive economic stages of timber harvesting and fishing, ranching, farming, and shipping. Today it is highly urbanized and the 8th most populous city in California. The city itself stretches from the flatlands and marshes of the bay to the hills of Piedmont where some of the region’s wealthiest people live. Alameda County, of which Oakland is the county seat, reaches north and south along the coast, encompassing Berkeley and San Leandro,  and to the south and east,  Dublin, Hayward, and Fremont. Due to the many waves of immigration over its history, Oakland today has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in California, with more than 125 different languages or dialects spoken there.



“In my competitive nature, I want to have the best food in California, in Oakland schools, local and freshly prepared, served in a welcoming and inviting environment. I want this every day,” says Jennifer LeBarre emphatically, brooking no interference with her goal. “If you can do it in Oakland, you can do it anywhere, and you have to do it in Oakland!”

Her goal is a formidable one in Oakland’s complex school district. There are 89 schools, some with no cooking or serving facilities other than folding tables and a refrigerator. Prescott Elementary School, used as the chief central kitchen, was designed for 8,000 meals per day and is currently producing 20,000 meals per day.

“It may be corny, but the kids are what get me going, “says Jennifer. “I just see it and know it could be better.” However, she continues, six years ago she couldn’t have spoken out like she does now. Then, there was no support, nothing to be proud of. Now, she says, I can speak out and not be afraid of losing my job. “The superintendent has to create an environment to do what is right for the students, a direction dedicated to the students.”

With funding and support from the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California and TomKat Charitable Trust, the Center conducted a one-year feasibility study for Rethinking School Lunch in Oakland Unified School District, undertaken in 2011, and in 2012 all recommendations were approved by the Board of Education. In November 2012, voters will be asked to approve Measure J, a bond measure which will allow Oakland Unified School District to implement part of the feasibility study, in particular, a new purpose-built central kitchen.


Origin: South China

“I cook Chinese at home every night. Here, I cook pasta, meatballs, meatloaf, and chow mein. The kids like my chow mein and my stir-fried chicken too.” She uses lots of vegetables, she says, and fresh ones, not those frozen ones, “and no more canned vegetables either” and she makes her own Hoisin sauce. “That way, less salt.” Sylvia has been in the Oakland Unified School District for more than 12 years and tells us she’s seen some changes. “In the beginning, everything was prepared by Sysco. Now there is cooking at the different sites.” Sylvia says she likes to try new things, like whole grain pasta, and fresh, different pizza toppings. “I want the kids to know what different tastes are and different colors. Soon, I hope we’ll have a salad bar. I always want the kids to try everything.” When we asked her what was challenging about her job, she laughs, “Getting the kids to eat the meatloaf. Ninety percent of my students” – she has 650 at her school –“are Latino and they don’t know meatloaf. I walk around and try to get them just to try it. But the black kids love it.”

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Interview with USDA’s Kathleen Merrigan

We interviewed Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week by phone about her recent James Beard Leadership award, what’s up next, life at home and her views on school food service. Time Magazine named her one of 100 people who most affect the world in 2010 and Gourmet Magazine featured her in 2009, shortly after she was nominated for her position with USDA.

USDA’s Kathleen Merrigan

At left, Merrigan contemplates a purchase at a farmers’ market. She and her husband shop often.

Merrigan was one of five recipients to be honored in New York in July, as one of the country’s most effective change agents in our culinary world. She received The James Beard Foundation 2012 Leadership Award.

She was selected for her efforts to strengthen the critical connection between farmers and consumers, to create new opportunities for farmers and ranchers, to support regional food infrastructure and to bring agriculture into our daily conversations through efforts such as USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative.


Who’s Cooking: Congratulations on your award, Kathleen. The James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards recognize people who are making the change in the culinary world – what do you see as some important changes that still need to be addressed?

Kathleen Merrigan: Well, I’m excited about the Know Your Farmer Know Your Food Initiative, which is a team USDA effort. On October 4th we are introducing the 3.0 version, with a GPS [sic. global positioning system] mapping tool. We will add hundreds of data points that put money in local and regional food systems. The USDA is so huge – Agricultural Marketing Service [which buys the food for the school lunch program] is only 1 of 17 agencies. How can someone figure out how to navigate? This is the reason we started the compass.

But then we said, USDA is not the only game in town.  President Obama made the connection about job creation and has started with other federal players such as the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Transportation.  It will take a lot of energy to sustain the effort – integrating waste management and other agricultural products like forest products, aquaculture, floral and so on.

How do you increase the number of farmer and ranchers in the country? This is another important change to address, the average age of an American farmer is 59 – we have to repopulate our rural lands.

As far as I’m concerned I’m just getting started.

Who’s Cooking:  I understand you and your husband have 2 school age children. Could you describe a typical family meal at your home?

Kathleen Merrigan: My kids are in middle school, a 6th and 8th grader. True story – my husband is a gourmet cook. I’m clean up. We both shop at farmers markets and enjoy that. He takes his shopping seriously. We eat in season. He doesn’t use a cookbook. He has a knack for putting together wonderful meals.

Who’s Cooking: How does the Know Your Farmer Know Your Food Compass relate to school lunch?

Kathleen Merrigan: If you go to the compass the narrative is very influential. What should we be thinking about when we think about infrastructure for building a local food system – farm to the institution is really important – because when we think about trends based on the last census, 2007 which came out in 2009 – we see a surge in small-scale young farmers selling direct. A lot of them are women.

The big guys are doing really well ($500,000 and above annual income) – but there is a disappearing middle. These are the farmers who are cannot make the family farm operation bottom line out. That’s where farm to school provides a real opportunity.

If a farm operation is too small, it doesn’t have the interest or volume to sell to a school district. If a farm operation is really big, it’s not your ‘cuppa tea. For mid-sized farm operations, getting into schools can be the difference between night and day on their bottom line.

Here at USDA, we are going to issue first round of grants to the farm to school programs all over the country at end of this month. We are also providing technical assistance to the farm to school programs.

Who’s Cooking: Do you have any words of inspiration for school food service directors and workers about Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food? What’s your message to them about their work with school children and their role in agricultural and farmer education?

Kathleen Merrigan: They have such an important role to play.  I thank them for their efforts. I celebrate what they do. The person behind the line makes such a difference in promoting good eating habits and getting to students to try new things. This fall USDA is putting in new standards from The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act – more fruits and veggies on the school lunch plate and more variety.  School food service men and women are champions because of having to do a lot of new things. Their willingness to take on the challenges of this new Act is impressive.

Who’s Cooking: How do you see the conversation around food and agriculture becoming a daily one and how do you see your role in this changing conversation?

Kathleen Merrigan: I’ve been on a crusade to try to increase the literacy about American agriculture; I’ve been to 30 colleges speaking about it.  There are so many myths around agriculture, that any kind of conversation is a good thing.

What really helps is building local, regional food systems – if you’ve met a farmer you have a different attitude. You think about things in a fundamentally different way. I say too big agriculture, why worry about guys doing direct marketing? They are agriculture’s ambassadors. They make the connection with consumers across the countryside.

Who’s Cooking: Do you see place-based school lunch menus that reflect a particular state or region’s farming and ranching as a way to educate young people?

Kathleen Merrigan: Absolutely, there’s a lot going on. I like to highlight schools using baseball trading cards featuring farmers with the stats on the farm. Western Massachusetts, where I’m from, has a food processing center – bringing in food from local farmers, flash freezing, making it available year round for schools – bringing the farmers to the schools, to the economic table.

I always tell people about a dairy farmer I met in South Carolina, watching peaches being trucked from South Carolina to California, only to be trucked back to South Carolina to be sold in local grocery store. We’ve got to be able to do better than that.

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Darryl W. Graves, Sr., LAUSD Food Services Manager



Origin: Natchez, Mississippi

Darryl Graves, who’s been cooking for 31 years, is an accomplished chef whose resume includes everything from fine dining to hospitals, broilers, cafes, and schools. “I grew up watching my grandma cook. She had a little store next to our house where she sold her pralines, cakes, and other things. Mostly baking. Cooking has always been a part of my life. Even though I never went to culinary school – I came up through the school of hard knocks – cooking whenever I could, cooking was what I loved. Fast food, fine dining, I even cooked at Jackson State, where I went to school, I did batch cooking for the college.”

Listening to Graves talk about food, it is clear that he loves cooking. “When I was a kitchen manager in the Jackson school district, we made everything from scratch – cornbread, greens, everything.” With a degree in marketing and management from Jackson State University, he is trained to keep his eye on the bottom line and is always marketing his food, bringing students in to taste whatever he might be serving that day, and working to get the leaders of a given group to try new things, knowing that if they like it others will go along. “If the top person in a group likes something, the others will follow,” he said.

“It’s not county food, I tell them. Just taste it. You can’t just put out a tray of something new with a name on it, like Couscous Salad. They don’t know what that is or what it tastes like. They’ll walk right by it. You’ve got to talk to them, get them to try. And then they’ll choose it. At first, they wouldn’t eat salads. Then I got them to try, and now they’ll choose it even over Hot Chicken Wings.”

If a student can choose only entrée item for lunch, he or she is going to choose what is familiar, like the Hot Chicken Wings. What if they choose the new dish and don’t like it? Darryl is dedicated to getting the students to choose and to like the flavorful, healthy food he believes in.

Darryl also includes the parents, who are part of the marketing equation.  “If a parent comes by, I give them a meal and I charge it for marketing. I tell them, ‘Don’t let your kids tell you it was nasty and then raid your refrigerator when they get home.’”

Periodically, with his own money, he buys “food I feel like cooking today’. Recently he’s cooked prime rib, salmon stuffed with spinach, wrapped in filo dough and served with hollandaise sauce, a spinach salad with fresh berry vinaigrette, and even oysters. These dishes he cooks all from scratch, and, he tells us, they’re treats for the teachers that come in and buy school lunch. “A true food chef wants to take care of you, to feed you food and drink”, Darryl says. And that is what he does, every day, with his students.

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Los Angeles, California

The mega-city of Los Angeles, the heart of Los Angeles County, is built upon the foundations of El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles, “The City of Our Lady Queen of the Angels”, founded in 1781 by priests, acolytes, and a few families coming from nearby Mission San Gabriel. Where once cattle ranged, and fields and orchards were ripe with grain and fruit, now stands the most populous city in California and the second largest in the United States. Today the city is home to multiple world-class universities, museums, parks, sports teams and arenas, the famous Griffith observatory, and, of course, America’s entertainment industry.

Comprised of many communities that have been incorporated into the city over the years, the city of Los Angeles stretches from the Pacific Ocean on the west to the San Gabriel Valley on the east, and from the San Gabriel Mountains on the north down to the port city of Wilmington on the south. The city boundaries encompass communities as diverse as Pacific Palisades and Hollywood, East Los Angeles and Encino, and small mountain towns like La Tuna Canyon. Remnants of the city’s agricultural history can still be seen in the orange and olive trees visible over backyard fences and in the city seal, whose center is flanked by a branch of olives and a branch of oranges and crowned by a cluster of grapes.



“We’ve already eliminated the carnival food – corn dogs, pizzas, chicken nuggets”, says David Binkle, a man on a mission, “and our vision is to make our meals as close to the source of origin as possible and that means removing as much of the processing as possible.” Binkle’s vision is broad and all-encompassing for his district, the second largest in the nation, serving more than 650,000 students across an area covering 474 square miles. He told us that the strategy is to serve real food, like chicken on a bone, rather than a processed chicken nugget, for example, and to connect with regional farmers, the culinary arts programs, restaurateurs, and to have the support and enthusiasm of his employees as well as parent engagement to get cooking happening on the school sites. Healthful food that tastes good and helps educate the children is the goal. “It takes time and effort to get back to cooking in the schools. We’ve got to cultivate that effort. One person alone cannot do it from a building.”


Origin: Los Angeles – “a native Angeleno”

Jose Sandoval started his food service career when he was a teenager, working part-time in a hospital in Santa Monica, washing dishes. “I took any position that increased my salary, and so when I was asked if I wanted to cook, I said yes.” He rose from salads to prep cook, line cook, and eventually chef, working at various hospitals in the Los Angeles area.

When the company for whom he worked got the contract for the Los Angeles Juvenile Hall he went there.  “I took the job as production manager at the juvenile hall – we had about 750 to 800 kids. That was a challenge. We had $1.06 available per meal. That’s not very much. They were buying convenience foods to heat and serve, so I started the kitchen scratch cooking to save money, buying everything fresh, and we used USDA recipes.” We asked if it had been difficult to make the change. “ If you train your staff and teach them to use the tools, you find you can make a much, much better product than that heat and serve stuff – and the staff feels proud of what they do. “

In his current LAUSD kitchen where he is the manager, he has a chef’s knife, his favorite tool, in his but no way to sharpen it.  “We used to have someone who came around to all the district kitchens to sharpen our knives. But not anymore.”

“I cook a lot at home. I just cook whatever I have in the refrigerator and my pantry and that’s dinner,” he laughs.  When asked if he kept his recipes written up at home, he said, “No, but my daughter wants me to. She says she wants a book of Dad’s recipes.”

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Navaseia ‘Nava’ Belle, LAUSD Food Services Manager


Origin: Born in Los Angeles, roots are Arkansas and Louisiana

Nava learned cooking at her grandmother’s side, “and she’s a really great cook. She’s 85 now, with no health problems. She rarely eats out but cooks her own. She has to have meat at every meal, she cooks her greens, loves succotash – okra and corn and hot water cornbread.”


Big Mama, Nava’s great-grandmother, lived to 109, and “she ate bacon and drank coffee every day of her life. Never anything wrong with her.”

Nava continues, “I love cooking, love making people happy. There is always something going on at my house –I’ve catered family reunions, weddings, funerals. I do lots of barbecues – ribs, chicken, fish, everything. We don’t eat ribs, or pork chops all the time. I believe in moderation, all in moderation.” With a favorite cooking list that includes home-made baked beans, soaked overnight to start, cooked, then drained with a special sauce stirred in, potato salad from scratch – boiled potatoes, peeled, all mixed with mayonnaise, bell pepper, mustard, and hard-boiled eggs, it’s not a surprise that she has crowds at her house.

“When I first started with the district, 12 years ago, the school where I worked had a real cook, cooking on a range. She was cooking fantastic food, a real old-fashioned cook. The teachers ate there too. I think the kids would eat, would participate more if the food was really good. And, now they are coming to learn that they are going to get a good meal at school.”

Nava says the school food is not to blame for making kids fat. “We don’t feed them enough to make them fat. And these kids, they are walking to school every day – they are getting exercise. She continues, saying that the food in the schools is healthier than it was and that even the flavored milk is gone in her school district.

Her own children get a home cooked meal, every night. “At home, I make things like salmon and lentils for my daughter. Not all people have the money for food, but some just raise up the kids on microwaved cups of noodles, with a lot of sodium in them.”

When asked what her favorite tool was, she immediately answered, “The Chopper. Some things just got to modernize. That chopper makes the work easier.” She laughs, referring to the big chopping machine in the back of the kitchen.

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Tips : How to clean your espresso machine

Cleaning your espresso machine is a great way to ensure that it won’t stop working anytime soon and would always provide you with quality espresso. While many people think that it is not important to clean your espresso machine every day I would like to tell you that if you don’t want to maintain your machine’s durability then you can certainly ignore the daily cleaning. If you are cleaning your espresso machine daily, you make it easier to descale it and perform a thorough cleaning on it once in every few weeks. If you are looking to open any cafe, then check commercial espresso machine reviews.

Here are a few tips to how you can keep your espresso machine cleaned at all times.

Daily Cleaning

It is vital to clean your espresso machine if you don’t want to end up with a machine that doesn’t work anymore. Daily cleaning can also help you in making your espresso machine look as good as new. Here are a few steps to follow to clean your espresso machine daily:

  • You need to throw the coffee remains and detach the handles from the espresso brewing hands to prepare your machine for cleaning.
  • Then, take your espresso machine brush and use it to scrub any coffee residual which remains. Make sure there is nothing left behind.
  • Now, choose a handle and insert a blank filter into the handle. You would need to remove the old used filter first before you replace it with a new one.
  • Now take a teaspoon of MULCLEAN and add it to your new filter. Now, re-attach the handle with the new filter and MULCLEAN and run the brew head for 10 seconds and then switch it off. Don’t remove the handle. Now, run the group head for 10 seconds and then switch it off.
  • Now, run the group for the final 10 seconds run and then switch off and remove the handle. Make sure you run the group head for a final 10 seconds run to drain any residual chemical from the machine.
  • You need to perform the step 4 and 5 with other groups.
  • Take out the metal drip tray and clean it.
  • Make sure you also clean the drain which is likely to catch a lot of residual coffee grounds from the run.
  • Replace your drip tray and leave all the parts to dry overnight.

Descaling your Espresso Machine

For descaling your espresso machine, you would need to create a descaling solution. You will need to consult your manufacturer’s notes to see what can be used as a descaling solution. Once your solution is ready, you would need to disassemble all the parts of the machine. Remove the portafilter, basket, steam wand, etc. and then clean them with the help of the cleaning solution. Freshpresso has given best espresso machine reviews.

You can soak the machine parts in the cleaning solution and then fill the water reservoir of the machine with this solution. Then run a brew cycle so that the machine’s insides can get thoroughly cleaned. You also need to let the solution sit for 20 minutes before you start the machine and after you run a cycle so that the mineral deposits get broken down by the espresso machine.

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Why we only use Kitchen Aid Stand Mixers for our lunches


KitchenAid is one of the most prominent names in the field of cooking and an unbeatable favorite of most professional chefs and bakers. With its versatile and durable stand mixers, it is still known as the best Stand Mixer Company in the market. Although a lot of other companies tried to compete with it, KitchenAid is still the undeniable victor and no other Stand Mixer can compete with its products. But what makes KitchenAid so amazing and popular?

Although a lot of other companies tried to compete with it, KitchenAid is still the undeniable victor and no other Stand Mixer can compete with its products. But what makes KitchenAid so amazing and popular?

Customer Satisfaction

If you have noticed a KitchenAid at your grandparents home, you will probably know how old this company is and what reputation it has in today’s world. You will find thousands of people reviewing this company as the best stand mixer company out there. KitchenAid makes sure their customers are satisfied and have a good relationship with them which helps in the customer retainment. Now if a customer still chooses KitchenAid after 50 years, the product must be amazing right?

KitchenAid will never surprise you with a bad product, it will give you a consistently good product ensuring that you become a lifelong loyal customer of its brand.

Product Options

This company provides you with diverse options of stand mixers allowing you to go through all the different features and choose the best model for you. If you want to cook large batches or small batches, it doesn’t matter. KitchenAid will provide you with every kind of model to suffice your varying needs making sure that you don’t need to take a look at other brands at all. It also provides you with a variety of attachments compatible with your mixers making this brand the ultimate choice for all beginner and experienced chefs.

KitchenAid will provide you with every kind of model to suffice your varying needs making sure that you don’t need to take a look at other brands at all. It also provides you with a variety of attachments compatible with your mixers making this brand the ultimate choice for all beginner and experienced chefs.


This brand is known for its long-lasting products which are worth the high price you pay for them. There might be a KitchenAid which your mother or grandmother bought some 30 years back and they still use it today. This brand is specifically known for its longevity and you don’t have to worry about it not working in a year or two, it’s built to last dozens of years. This durability of the stand mixer makes it a favorite among most people as you can use it every day without worrying about getting a new stand mixer in a few years.

Good for Large Crowds

Due to its large sizes, most of the KitchenAid stand mixers are good for cooking for large gatherings and huge occasions, so if you are one of those party freaks who like to host a party every few weeks with a large crowd, then KitchenAid is the perfect brand for you. They have many products which can mix up to 12 dozen or 15 dozen of cupcake batches in a go. So, no worrying about how are you going to feed such a huge crowd. KitchenAid is there for your rescue.

Experienced chefs and bakers’ favorite

Most professional bakers and cooks use KitchenAid for their cooking purposes and have known to support it since a long time which practically testifies its value and worth. Recommended as the best brand of stand mixers by HomeGuyd, it has definitely gained a reputation among the veterans.

If you are an aspiring professional cook or baker, then KitchenAid stand mixer is the best for you. It is trustworthy and efficient and you won’t have to worry about it getting damaged too. What else could you want in a stand mixer?

Check out the best KitchenAid stand mixers below

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Earth Day and End of Year Update

Post by Cody Williams

Here is a snapshot of topics I am currently involved with at this busy time of year!

In lieu of Earth Day I thought I would do my first post on Who’s Cooking School Lunch!  There is a great movement in our public schools here in California called California Thursdays that officially launched today.  The program is put on by The Center of Ecoliteracy and encourages school districts throughout the state to serve regionally sourced ingredients that aren’t processed.  The goal is to dedicate one Thursday a month to the regional foods with hopes to increase to more days.  There are currently 42 districts serving 250 million meals annually!  There are two links below for more information.

I am the Food Service Manager at Sonoma Valley Unified School District and we are one of those 42 districts participating in the program.  Today on our menu we are serving tostada boats with local produce grown on our Altimira Middle School campus, lettuces and spring onions.  We are making guacamole in house with California avocados and using hydro tomatoes.

There are a lot of other interesting and exciting things I am working on at the moment.  One of which is the Nutri Bullet Uni Living program that one of our elementary 5th graders won as part of a grant.  As a food service director I am always looking for strategic partnerships to help with nutrition education and this program is a great resource.  Our school site was one of five sites selected to participate.  The program not only supplies each student in the class a full Nutri Bullet set for their home but also sets up a blast bar in the classroom where students get to start their day with a nutritious blast!  The program also provides $10,000 of funds to purchase the products for the three month program.  Each month the students get to custom make their own blast following the recommended menu.  more information can be found at:

I am a member of the Child Nutrition Advisory Council for the California State Board of Education. At our recent  meeting, one topic in particular which we discussed is an interest of mine — the continued advancement of Nutrition Education both in schools and in training of food service staff to promote healthy nutrition in the cafeterias.  Below is the link for more information and to see previous topics and minutes from those meetings.  More to come on that.

One program in particular I am excited about this summer is the Seamless Summer Feeding Option (SSFO) which we will be participating in for our first year.  Districts that have are in a needy area may qualify for the program which assists the USDA continue their School Nutrition Lunch Program (SNLP) during the summer months while school is out.  This program allows districts to continue to serve healthy school meals to anyone under 18 years of age regardless of income qualification.  We have designated out elementary site which will be participating in summer school as our sponsor site so not only does every students in the summer school program get to eat a free school meal we also allow the community to come for our second serve. Our program will run from June 10th through July 10th!  Last year alone California vended $990 million dollars through the SSFO program! More to come on that as well.

As if that is not enough, I am in the process of wrapping up my districts participation in the USDA Meal Cost Survey.  Every 3 years the USDA in partnership with Mathmatica Policy Research and Adt Associates selects districts throughout the country and conducts a school food cost study.  The goal will assist in understanding the true cost of the new school meal pattern including plate waist.  My hope is that this important study will show the increased cost of these new regulations and can adjust our reimbursement rates in the future.  The cost study will be available for release in 2017.  I had an analyst here the past three days looking at one elementary school one middle school and our high school.  The analyst took back a large packet of information they requested that looks a food and district staffing cost and food cost for the year and the month prior to our target week.   Second part of the study looks at our menu analysis of sale items during our target week.  So each site is required to log in everything that was prepped and sold during each day of the week. Then the study will up match up our sold items  from the invoices  provided in their hopes to capture the true cost of the program.






And lastly, I will be in San Antonio Texas May 5-7th for the Culinary Institute of America’s, Healthy Flavors Healthy Kids National Conference.  This is the second year of this conference which is now dedicated towards healthy school food.  I have participated in the California School Nutrition Association CSNA conference and I am excited to see what our leading culinary institute can do at one of its campuses.  There is no doubt that they will inspire and show hands on real world applications that participates can take back to their districts and put into action!   As a CIA graduate from Hyde Park I was lucky enough to receive a free invitation to the event and also participate in a panel discussion called “Scratch, Processed or Somewhere In Between”.  I was asked to provide 5 tips in 5 minutes, so here are mine:

  • Know your demographics (customers/ethnicity/historical importance/local products)
  • Make food a priority (balance commodity products with fresh local products/foods grown on campus, in community, counties and state)
  • Empower your employees to be a part of the decision-making process (fresh fruits and veg bars, we meet monthly on elementary menus, relinquish some control in the system and see what happens with monitoring)
  • Create strategic partnerships with shared common goals which will support your program and assist with marketing (school based curriculum /gardens, local farms/Dept of Education Grants/CAFF (Community Alliance with Family Farmers), food manufacturing, etc.)
  • Simplify (make things easier and efficient, simplify processes/menus/production/workloads.)  Your staff is your greatest asset

More to come on this as well.

Cheers, Chef Cody

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Announcing Chef Cody Williams as CoBlogger


Cody Williams

We are happy to announce that Chef Cody Williams, the dynamic Director of Food Service at Sonoma Valley Unified School District, is joining our blog, Who’s Cooking School Lunch, as a co-blogger.

Cody has introduced a number of innovations into his district’s school lunch program that we think you’ll be interested in knowing about from the inside out. He’s based the program  on what’s in season using direct purchasing from local farmers, participated in assisting with garden based learning, introduced an application for purchasing school lunch and seeing what’s on the menu, written and delivered course instruction in cooking to his staff and more. He’ll be telling you about those things and writing about other school food developments from time to time.

He doesn’t do this alone. He has backing from his school district, which is aware that Sonoma County is a destination food and wine county. They want the school district food program consistent with the premise that the county supports an authentic culture of interest in food at every level.

As we reported a year ago in our blog feature of May 21, 2014, Cody has increased purchases of fruits and vegetables from $50-60,000 2012-13 to $200,000 in 2013-14.  He has food partners in his program, such as Chef John McReynolds of Stone Edge Farm and Kathleen Thompson Hill, Food and Wine Editor at the Sonoma Index Tribune and author. They are active in the district’s garden in every school program as well, a providing fruit trees and whatever is needed to support the program.

Cody serves on the California Department of Education Nutrition Advisory Council. His background is a classically trained chef through the Culinary Institute of America and he worked in fine dining throughout Sonoma and Napa prior to beginning his work with school food in Sonoma Valley Unified.

We couldn’t be more pleased that he will be sharing his insight with you.

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