Chef Dominic Machi, Director of DJUSD Student Nutrition Services in Top 10 in National Contest

DJUSD’s Dominic Machi, recently featured here on Who’s Cooking School Lunch, places in top 10 of national school recipe contest.

DJUSD’s Dominic Machi in top 10 of national school recipe contest

Chef Dominic Machi, Director of DJUSD Student Nutrition Services, has embraced the opportunity to source more seasonal produce from local farms and other “ingredients that kids like.” Since starting with DJUSD in August 2013, he has revitalized the lunch menus to include restaurant-quality “house-made” items instead of pre-packaged ready-to-heat foods that have been a part of school lunches for years.

Machi created and tested a unique Italian Potato Gnocchi with puree of white navy bean, house made marinara sauce, fresh spinach, sliced black olives, and fresh basil that was entered in the Humane Society’s “Meatless Mondays” competition.

The kids loved it and the judges did, too! Congratulations on placing in the top 10, Dominic!

Originally posted by Yolo Farm to Fork.

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Jennifer LeBarre, Oakland School Food Service on PBS

We hope many of you saw Jennifer Le Barre and her school lunch program in Oakland being featured on PBS September 16, 2014, 6:00 pm Newsroom show. Viewers also got a glimpse of the stunning new plans for the new school district central kitchen which includes an urban farm for teaching. We are especially happy to see this central kitchen coming closer to reality as we were among the primary consultants hired by the Center for Ecoliteracy to prepare a feasibility study for the project. Jennifer is not only  a visionary, but she has the stick-to-it drive that gets things accomplished. School Food Service Directors and their staff, many from California  featured here on “Who’s Cooking School Lunch, are changing food for children across America.

Read the script here

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Back to School with Chef Arturo – an Asset for Davis

Davis Joint Unified School District, Davis, CA
Origin: Nayarit, Mexico

Chef Arturo

Chef Arturo

Arturo Topete arrived in Davis by way of Los Angeles, where he went to culinary college and honed his high-speed chopping skills at a taqueria.  “I had to chop fast – we made a lot of fresh salsa with tomatoes, onions, and chilies,” he laughs. He says he did a little of everything at the taqueria, before moving on to work nearly 3 years at the Cheesecake Factory, where he learned a different set of flavors and culinary skills.

When he moved to Davis, now nearly 24 years ago, he worked at the local Pluto’s, which has an extensive array of salad components from grilled fennel to jicama, finished dishes like Mac n’ Cheese, and all kinds of sandwiches, not too different from some of the food he prepares today in the Central Kitchen for Davis students.

However, he had one more culinary stint before coming to the school district, this one at Sudwerk’s, where braised red cabbage, German potato salad and bratwursts are the restaurant’s staples.

Today, Arturo says, “I have the best job. Our kids are never alone – we can travel over the weekends and school holidays. I’m so lucky to have come here. I came one day as a substitute, and they liked how I do my work.”

We’ve watched Arturo work for several years, and any business would be glad to have him. He used to primarily handle inventory and do some prep work and packaging in the kitchen, but for the last year, under the management of ‘Dom’ Dominic Machi, Director of Student Nutrition Services, Arturo quickly moved to supervising the central kitchen. “Chef Arturo, our main cook, our chef, plays an integral role in the success of our student nutrition program here in at DJUSD, due to his many skills and his dedication to our scratch cooking model,” says Dom.

Arturo smiled broadly as he told us, “I cook every day. I make all the sauces from scratch for the high school – barbeque, marinara, pesto, Italian meat sauce. And, no more ‘prepared’ taco meat here. I start with 80 pounds of ground beef, add the seasonings, all freshly made.” He pats the big kettle he uses.

He does recipe development as well. “Sometimes Dom tells me to work on something – a sauce maybe, and I play around with it, develop the recipe, and then scale it up. I really like working with Dom because he’s open with us and asks us what we think.” There is nothing like good management to bring out the talent and loyalty of employees, and we’ve heard only good things about Dom Machi’s management from his staff.

Arturo is clearly someone who is passionate about food and cooking. “Flavor is the most important thing,” he says, and he means it. “I want our mashed potatoes to taste fresh, so I use fresh potatoes. Sometimes for the kids, you have to change a dish a little so kids will like it, but you have to keep the flavor.”

It’s not surprising that Arturo grew up with a mother who cooked and, as he says, he kept close by her when she made soups, her special beans, and her rice. “I make the rice here for the kids the way she taught me – you fry the rice a little before you boil it and add the spices and sauce,” he reveals.

Does he still have the energy – and desire – to cook at home after a long day in the central kitchen? “Of course,” he answers. “My kids love my cooking. They ask me what I’m going to make, or I’ll ask them to choose. They really love my Alfredo sauce – I make it with heavy cream, garlic, a little flour, not too much, and Parmesan cheese.” Yum. We’d like some of his Alfredo sauce too.

As more and more men and women like Arturo are able to express their passion and talent in school kitchens across America, the more the children of American will benefit.

Favorite Tools: Big Kettle and Hobart Mixer

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Davis’ Dominic Machi cooks from scratch for flavor and a better bottom line

Blog.Davis.Chef Dominic Machi 001Dominic Machi, Director of Student Nutrition Services, Davis Joint Unified School District, Davis, CA

Davis, a university town of 65,000 in the Sacramento Valley, is ahead of the school lunch curve — it passed the first in the nation parcel tax with a portion devoted to purchasing fresh, local food for school lunch. It is here we started our blog over 2 years ago– May 23, 2012. Today, nearly 100 interviews later, we circle back to Davis Joint Unified School District to check in on two culinary superstars in school lunch, starting first with Director, Student Nutrition Services, Chef Dominic Machi.

His first anniversary approaching, we caught up with him to see what he’s accomplished, running the school meal program at Davis, a district of about 8,500 students with an average free and reduced percentage of 20-21. The changes he has introduced to the program are all about increasing food quality and flavor through house-made product, while increasing the bottom line. The chef knows his business.

Blog.Davis.Dommenu.P1040284“Dom”, as he is called, had goals set out for him by the district – get participation up and cost down. His background was perfect. He grew up in a restaurant family in San Francisco and worked in butcher shops, got degrees in both hotel-restaurant and dietetics, worked in 4- star restaurants and directed several large school district food service operations. In those districts, he opened a 30,000 square foot kitchen and introduced scratch cooking. He knew that to achieve the district’s goals he had to market the lunches, resource products directly and focus on quality while keeping costs down. Part of marketing the lunches was serving the school board what the kids were eating (see menu left.)

“This is a business model I figured out in Newark [Unified School District in California where Dom also served as Director, School Food Service.] “To keep the cost of goods down, you have to use USDA Commodity proteins (like a USDA 8-way cut chicken) and you have to cook. Everything we do here is done right,” he says. “It all tastes like my mother made it.”

His personal goal is 85% house-made product.

Blog.Dom.wusdawoman.P1030620In his chef’s whites, he’s as comfortable guiding through his kitchen a tour of USDA officials from Washington, D.C. who are learning the latest about school food as he is talking with farmers and purveyors about the products he wants. (Photo left is Dom with Anne Alonzo, Administrator for the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, during her 2013 Davis tour.) He works equally well with his staff, his administration, and his parent and community groups represented by Davis Farm to School, the now 14 year old “school lunch booster club” program. Its parent group, Yolo Farm to Fork, is active with Dom in his purchase of produce grown at Harper Junior High School, such as tomatoes for marinara sauce, and is transporting that model to the other four school districts in Yolo County.

Davis, located in the agriculturally rich Yolo County across the river from Sacramento, participates as one of the five school districts in a Specialty Crop farm-to- school grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, administered through the Yolo County Department of Agriculture under Commissioner John Young. In June, the county was ranked “30th healthiest county for kids in the nation” by U.S. News in June. At an April meeting of the school districts, whose focus is on increasing the use of local fruits and vegetables in their school meals program, Dom described his house-made product strategy.

Dom, a former Executive Chef at Bon Appétit, has a veritable house-made line. Entrée items include BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich, Macaroni and Cheese (yes, his own cheese sauce), Mandarin Chicken over Steamed Brown Rice, Cheese and Bean Burrito, and even a grilled cheese sandwich that’s not soggy. These are labeled on the lunch menu as house-made.

He’s introduced a line of house-made sauces including Alfredo and another line of dressings which include Ranch, Caesar, and a French Vinaigrette Salad. “My pizza sales have tripled,” he said. “The whole wheat crust was a challenge for us [to meet new USDA standards], but I found a wholesale bakery in Napa to make the rounds for us.” He adds his own house-made marinara sauce and toppings.

Blog.Davis.Dom.Couscous.P1040291Dom is in partnership with his local university, the University of California Davis, to start a taste-testing program for other new house-made and flavor profile products he’s introducing. The cousous pictured left has already been introduced successfully as a part of increasing whole grains to meet the new USDA meal pattern. He has prioritized making sure kids don’t go hungry in the summer, starting a summer food program. The district began offering free lunches at two school sites in June and will run the program through August.

We think Dom has introduced just the right changes to keep the Davis School Meal Program growing in both student and community participation.

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Looking for work?


Yolo.F2S.WestSac.Saladbar.P1040395We don’t usually post job announcements — but this one is too good to pass up, and, we’re getting a lot of college students reading the blog now who are very interested in farm to school and making a difference in school lunch — this shows there are jobs out there. As well, some of our friends cooking school lunch, whom we’ve interviewed, just might want to give this a try, or know of someone who would. Our friend, colleague and Gail Feenstra, Deputy Director, Food Systems Coordinator, Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (SAREP), Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI) at UC Davis, asked us to post. For more information on Gail, check out our blog on her thoughts as a national farm to school leader on the recent national farm to school conference in Austin, TX.


UC Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program

Apply by July 10


Under the direction of the Food and Society Academic Coordinator and in collaboration with external partners, plan and implement farm to school evaluations at school district, county and statewide levels. Collect and analyze procurement data, cafeteria environment scans, menu analyses, school garden and farm tour data, recycling/composting data and changes in children’s consumption patterns and or food preferences. Conduct and evaluate professional development activities (cooking classes, garden workshops, etc.) Develop evaluation protocols, conduct interviews and surveys, develop data spreadsheets, summarize research results and write reports. Synthesize results and write articles for peer-reviewed journals; do presentations for professional and practitioner audiences. Represent the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program’s (SAREP’s) Farm to School activities at local, state and national gatherings.

Help to organize and execute urban ag tours with youth in the Bay Area/ Sacramento. Develop urban agriculture tour curricula and training materials involving youth with input from advisors; work with 4-H and Urban Ag NGO leaders to develop content, revise and finalize for widespread distribution. Manage logistics of Urban Ag tours including communication, transportation, food, and educational materials. Conduct outreach about the urban ag tours, focusing on social media and new forms of electronic outreach; involve youth in the outreach. Organize all project documents and write progress and final reports.

Research grant opportunities and help write grant proposals to fund SAREP’s Food and Society initiatives.



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A Fresh Look at Art and Ag at the National Farm to School Conference, Austin TX 2014

me (2)We recently caught up with Danielle Whitmore, YoloArts Executive Director, with whom our firm, Evans & Brennan,  works professionally on the Yolo Farm to School Project. She spoke at the National Farm to School Conference in Austin, TX to find out her take on what she experienced and how attendees responded to her message of art and agriculture.

“Dani” brings her thirty years of administrative experience, knowledge and tireless advocacy for the arts to benefit Yolo County.  With a professional background in the field of marketing and public relations, she promotes the relationships between artists and the community, while working to strengthen YoloArts’ partnerships with a keen eye on using art as a tool for economic development.

Evans & Brennan (E&B): You are the Director of the Yolo Arts Council. What is its purpose and how does this relate to agriculture and school food? Dani: YoloArts is dedicated to cultivating and enriching people’s lives through the arts. We accomplish this mission by supporting art education programs, exhibitions, galleries, businesses, ranches and public places with art – and use our signature program The Art and Ag Project to connect the arts to agriculture, food and now school food.

E &B: We understand this was your first time attending the conference and that you presented on a panel. What caused you to want to go? Dani: Any time YoloArts can lend a voice to the concept of art as a collaborative, community building tool we are pleased to present.  We believe in leveraging the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve a community’s interest – The Art and Ag Project is a powerful combination of art, food, and community.

What is your message, with your Art and Agriculture Program, as it relates to school lunch and those who cook it every day? Did you get a good reaction on the panel? The panel was very interested in the unique connection this program offers. There are multiple opportunities to teach and connect but none better that reaching students.  The Art and Ag Program K-12 platform provides an educational opportunity – teaching the next generation about their agricultural heritage, the importance of land preservation and healthy eating in the context of creative experiences.  I also see this as an opportunity to introduce and educate kids on healthy foods.  In short a way to break down the yuckyness of a vegetable…you know make kale – cool.

What was the “feel” of the conference as a first time participant, and one who is indirectly related to a school lunch program? Were there unusual twists, speakers or sessions? The conference was a warm and inviting place to be….I mean we all love food right?  And I can talk about food anytime.  What I found interesting was the opening comments by the director.  She noted a key vision for this conference was the planners desire to bring the unexpected to the table…and they did…they brought art~ ! It was fun to watch the reaction as I introduced myself – I felt I represented the twist…in a good way!

What kind of food was served? Did it reflect the southern heritage of Austin, TX? Did you have BBQ? If so, what kind (pork or beef? Tomato or vinegar based?) The food was locally sourced and provided a great introduction to the region.  Quite frankly we all got full fast as we downed pulled pork sliders with coleslaw….I don’t recall the sauce….but it’s probably on my shirt somewhere! (J

Did you meet and interact with people from other regions around the country? What are serving in their cafeterias? How are they approaching farm to school any differently? Are they doing anything with art and agriculture that interested you? I had the pleasure of meeting many folks from all over the United States – Phoenix, Maine, Texas of course and California.  I found their work in cafeterias and school gardens really amazing, especially those who are growing and cooking their own food with students.  My fellow conference goers were keenly interested in including the art in their programming…it’s a concept they didn’t consider. I was surprised by the newness of the farm to cafeteria initiative – I didn’t realize it was so young.  But its strong…over 1,000 people attended this conference.  Amazing.

Yolo Arts Council recently did the design work for Yolo Farm to School’s soon to be launched Guidebook: California Specialty Crops: A Guide for Their Use in School Lunch. Was this good background for you at the conference? Why was your organization selected to do this and what does Yolo Arts Council bring to the table of more fresh flavorful and seasonal food in the school cafeteria? Yes thanks to Ann Evans and Georgeanne Brennan – YoloArts has the distinct opportunity to design the soon to be launched guidebook, which includes images of art we have commissioned or has been inspired by our county’s agriculture and local foods.  I believe it’s our passion for connecting through the arts that inspired Ann and Georgann to ask us.   Because of our unique and fortunate partnership with John Young, Yolo County Agriculture Commissioner – we are included in many key conversations, meeting and collaborative opportunities.  Not only was our work on the guidebook good background for the conference, it continues to support the role of our organization as a strong player in promoting healthy foods, the use of local farms and our county – creatively.

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Oregon: You’re Raising the Bar for School Food – Thanks!

SSJ-95617OK, Oregon, way to go. It appears that your statewide additional $1.2 million for local food in schools is making a big impact. Other states take note.

We recently came across this article in Edible Portland, on high school Future Farmers of America, the Bend-LaPine School District and the local farmers market and culinary class working together to go piglet to plate in this district of 29 schools and 16,000 students. The kids even get a lesson for from local food experts on how to maximize the pig for the number of students they feed each day — before they butcher. Read more. 

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Kids Love the Salad Bar at Sonoma Valley High School

IMG_0282Melinda Beasley, Food Service Assistant II, Sonoma Valley High School, Sonoma Valley Unified School District

 Origin: Grand Rapids, Michigan

 A graduate of Sonoma Valley High School where she now works, Melinda has been with the district 15 years. “I love Sonoma,” she tells us before the rush of serving 400 students in 10 minutes begins. “It’s a repeat of my childhood. I now have 2 grown children. This is a tight knit community and I realize just how special it is.”

Melinda learned to cook when she got married and immediately liked the artistic side of food. Although she grew up in a large Italian family -her mom had eight kids- she says she did not grow up cooking alongside her mother. Her mom worked, and Melinda says her sisters Ann and Sue influenced her taste in food growing up.


Lunch to Go

Lunch to Go

How school food service professionals find their way into their job interests us greatly. Often we hear women, in particular, saying it is a job born of wanting to work close to their children. Melinda’s story fits that description.

She had children growing up and decided to earn some extra money to help with finances. She began as a yard duty, got to know the kitchen ladies and they asked her if she’d be interested in coming to work in the kitchen. She started part time and then became first a substitute and then became full time. “It’s a perfect job with perfect hours for a working mom,” she says, as if in echo to hundreds we have also heard tell that tale, and who like Melinda, love working with the students and food so much they stay far past their children’s growing up years.

“Back then we served French fries,” she reflects when we ask her about the changes she’s seen since 1999. “My first job as a sub was to clean the fry machine. Now we bake the fries. Pepsi has gone as well as the vending machines with doughnuts.”

Chef Cody Special Meat Ball Sandwich

Chef Cody Special Meat Ball Sandwich

The fries and sugary stuff needed to go she tells us in all seriousness. “I’m so happy with the fruit and veggie bar. The salad bar got off to a slow start, but now it’s popular. All our food is grab and go except for Friday’s — when Chef Cody serves up his specials.” Everyone we’ve spoken with in the district seems happy about Chef Cody’s work — that would be Cody Williams, the Food Service Manager who arrived one year ago fresh from 10 years in the hospitality industry, including most recently the Napa Valley landmark Mustards Grill, Cindy Pawlcyn’s beloved restaurant.

One thing we’ve seen throughout school districts over the past several years is a cleaning up of ingredients. Melinda proudly explains that Sonoma’s meats are 100% beef – no additives or fillings. And, she comments on the student’s evolving tastes as she exposes them to new and different flavors, “They are getting to know artichoke hearts and edamame. Our kids are fortunate. They are getting world class bread. Our sandwiches sell out every day now.”

What would Melinda like her fellow school food service professionals across the United States to know? “I love kids to try something new. We put out new foods on a repetitive basis to increase familiarity, but like your mom would say at home, I tell ‘em, ‘just try a bite.’”

Favorite Kitchen Tool: “I do love the Robot Coupe [food processor] but I’ll go with a kitchen timer you can hear from another room.”

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Fresh Fish Tacos for School Lunch in Monterey’s Bay to Tray Program

Update on Monterey Peninsula School District – Special Post from Jenn Gerard, Director of Nutrition Services 

20140410-IMG_0104-1We caught up with Jenn recently, whom we featured earlier, and she told us that Monterey Peninsula School District is now  offering students locally caught and freshly prepared Fish Tacos (click for recipe link) with a Cilantro Coleslaw for lunch as part of our Bay to Tray program.  “The Bay to Tray program acts like a Farm to School program, but focuses the efforts on the bounty of our oceans,” she told us, “which many students can view outside of their classroom windows.”  She tested the Fish Tacos with the high school students, found the prep to be easier than expected, and sold out before any other entree – including our homemade pizzas!  “The next test came at the elementary level,” she said, “where we were wiped out after 2nd grade, with student excitement and interest unexpectedly high toward the new menu feature.”

20140410-IMG_0070-2Jenn sees this as a foundation to educating students on food, habitat and our diet’s impact on the environment and vice versa.  By creating dishes that students get excited, we hold their attention and the ability to educate.  Her program is currently engaging in dialogue with local fishermen to have them make appearances in classrooms throughout the district next year.  

20140410-IMG_0143 copy-1


 And, guess what? The district is hiring a culinary specialist! Details below.

“Monterey Peninsula Unified School District Nutrition Services is searching for a dynamic and experienced Culinary Specialist to provide culinary leadership and development in the school meal program.  This unique position will guide and inspire the development and promotion of menu concepts & recipes, staff training and student engagement for quality, healthy and financially solvent school meals and caterings within MPUSD and the community.” 

 The perfect candidate will be an engaging communicator and facilitator – in and out of the kitchen – with relevant culinary education and at least three years of experience in commercial food preparation and/or operations.  

This full-time, managment position will be based in Monterey, California and begins immediately upon hire.  Starting salary is $53,466.00, plus benefits, based on a 222 day contract.

Full job description and application instructions are available at:

Closes 4pm on Wednesday, June 25th.  

Contact Jenn Gerard, Director of Nutrition Services, 831-392-3947 

or for more information about the position and MPUSD’s Nutrition Department.  

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Sonoma’s Irma Barragan’s Chopped Salad Plus Bay Area School Lunch Stars

Irma Barragan, Kitchen Manager

Prestwood Elementary School, Sonoma Valley Unified School District

Origin: Michoacan, Mexico

IMG_0267Irma, who has been with the district eight years, is from a big ranch outside a small rural town near Michoacan, Mexico. She grew up surrounded by big trees of mangos, bananas and tamarinds, as well as tomatoes, chiles and cucumbers.

We meet her in her kitchen, but with all the activity going in preparation for lunch, she quickly suggests we go out the back door, where the sunshine is streaming through tall redwood trees that shade a group of picnic tables. There we settle in for a quick chat with Irma.

She has always liked to cook everything. “I saw how much my Gramma loved to cook.” At home, Irma cooks lot of vegetables and she always serves fruit. We ask her about a favorite dish, and she tells us chicken, zucchini, bell peppers with garlic, black pepper, fresh basil and cilantro. She has two children at home that she cooks for.

We ask her what is the toughest part of her job, she thinks carefully and somewhat seriously. “When kids owe money and I need to give them a cheese sandwich [in place of the school meal.] That is the part I don’t like,” she says.

What is the good part? To this question she responds immediately and brightly with a smile, her face once again lit up. “Everything,” she says.

We typically ask school food service in an interview, what if anything, they would like to share with their fellow workers across the country. Irma says, “I’d like them to know we make always fresh fruit and vegetables, and we cook our food. Kids love it when I make chili, chicken, soft tacos. And when I make spaghetti with fresh French bread, or my Mexican food with fresh corn and flour tortillas, our numbers increase.”

Irma's Chopped Salad

Irma’s Chopped Salad

After the interview we walk back into her kitchen with her, where a bright, colorful salad she has prepared is waiting to be served for lunch to between 200 and 250 students. It is made of chopped fruit and vegetables – jicama, cucumber, cilantro and oranges, with a dressing of fresh orange juice. She offers us a taste is a white paper tasting cup. It is delicious, cooling and flavorful. Yes, she says, this is one of the kid’s favorite salads. She is happy they love it, and we love it too.

Favorite Tool: Chef’s Knife — which she keeps very sharp for all the chopping she does.


Part II

Dateline: Getting School Lunch Done the Bay Area Way

Carolyn Lochhead, Washington Correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle, explores what School Nutrition Directors are serving around the Bay Area and finds many that not only meet the new USDA regulations for more fruits and vegetables, but welcome them.

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