Top chefs and restaurateurs take on school foodservice

kitchen line cafeteria

Some of the most acclaimed chefs in America are stepping into the heat of a different type of kitchen: school foodservice. With temperatures rising from regulations and political debates, these chefs are trying to leverage their experience with cooking and food to improve K-12 feeding. 

Dan Giusti

Restaurant: Noma
Next up: Brigaid

After four years as head chef of two-Michelin-star Noma in Copenhagen, Dan Giusti has cooked up a new prototype for helping school foodservice operations meet dietary standards and serve craveable kid food. His for-profit, Washington, D.C.-based company Brigaid plans to bring commercial-style kitchens and organizational hierarchies into schools.

“By having chefs present in the school kitchens on a daily basis, I hope to introduce a model that not only provides students with quality meals, but also furthers their understanding of what they are eating through basic food education,” Giusti said in a news release. One goal of his company is to forge a chef-student connection, as well as carve an attractive career pathway for professional chefs. “I want to put my skills to good use where I can make the biggest change,” he said. “It is clear that chefs are ready to solve bigger problems than ever before, and I want to do my part.”

John Rivers

Restaurants: 4 Rivers Smokehouse, The Coop, The Sweet Shop
Next up: Local food partnership with Orange County Public Schools and the University of Florida

John Rivers of Florida-based 4 Rivers Smokehouse grew concerned about the decline of the state’s agriculture and the quality of produce in Orange County, Fla., schools, and wanted to source more produce from local farms to supply schools with better fruits and vegetables. “It’s a lost opportunity for the farmers and the community when local is not sourced,” he says. He approached Orange County Public Schools with a plan to “reverse engineer” a local food supply, leveraging demand at his 12-unit 4 Rivers Smokehouse with that of the school district to guarantee the annual purchase of millions of dollars in local produce.

Rivers also is partnering with the University of Florida to cultivate a 46-acre farm, which will help supply the district with local produce. The project will be a teaching facility for farmers to learn how to grow in a more cost-efficient way and to access a processing and packing center for their own produce. In addition, Rivers will build hydroponic greenhouses in three Orange County schools, working with the University of Florida to add an educational component to the facilities.

Linton Hopkins

Restaurants: Restaurant Eugene; Holeman and Finch; Holeman and Finch Bottle Shop; Linton’s In the Gardens; H&F Burger; Hops Chicken
Next up: Atlanta Public Schools District Wellness Council

When Linton Hopkins opened Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene in 2004, he planted deep roots in the community by supporting and expanding local food markets. The chef-owner works with the Atlantic Public Schools District Wellness Council, striving to put Georgia on the plate of the state’s schoolchildren. Aiding the district, which serves around 50,000 meals a day, Hopkins sees the farm-to-table movement as a timeless technology that can solve his city’s nutrition problems in schools and the broader community. “I’m a cancer survivor, so I take additives in food really seriously,” he says. “We need to stop thinking we need to add things to food, and create these clean pathways of food.”

Hopkins aspires to be a “Jedi Knight of food,” fighting for labeling laws, eradicating food deserts and, above all, increasing public participation in developing more functional food systems. “[In] Southern states, post-Civil War, all of our Department of Agriculture heads are elected officials,” he says. “So I try to tell people, one of the most important votes in the South is voting for the commissioner of agriculture. They determine so much about the health of your state.”

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