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.
DAVID BINKLE, INTERIM DIRECTOR OF FOOD SERVICES, LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, LOS ANGELES, CA
“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.”
JOSE M. SANDOVAL, FOOD SERVICES MANAGER
BRIGHT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, LAUSD
LOS ANGELES, CA
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.”