When some of the leading chefs in our region—Christopher Kostow, author of "A New Napa Cuisine" and executive chef at the Restaurant at Meadowood and at Charter Oak in St. Helena; Nancy Silverton, co-owner of Pizzeria and Osteria Mozza and founder of LaBrea Bakery and Campanile Restaurant in Los Angeles; Erik Anderson and Riley Redfern of Coi Restaurant in San Francisco—joined Dan Giusti, former head chef at Copenhagen’s renowned Noma Restaurant, at dinner at Meadowood recently, it was to introduce a new program for school lunches.
School lunches, you say? Yes. New Jersey-born Giusti left one of the greatest restaurants in the world searching for a way to give more people in the world better food. He founded Brigaid, formed, we’re assuming, from the idea of a company (brigade) offering aid, to give schools trained chefs that can not only create meals “from scratch” but also offer their dedicated commitment to becoming full participants in the schools’ community. Brigade, the company informs us, is also the term used to describe the hierarchy in a professional kitchen.
The pilot for the program Giusti envisioned took place over the past two years in New London, Connecticut at all six public schools in a district where 57% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
The charge was to produce lunches that fit all of the guidelines of the National School Lunch Program, including the cost constraint of about $1.25 a serving. But the challenge was even greater: how to do so and make the lunches taste good, make the kids want to eat them and not throw them in the trash. Giusti told various news outlets, such as Forbes, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post, that he and the chefs he has hired are called upon to use all of their chef skills in managing the schools’ kitchens, staff, and resources for the greatest efficiencies, while pleasing their customers, the kids. They employ two of a chef’s greatest assets: fresh ingredients and “scratch” techniques. The history behind “from scratch,” we’ve learned, means “without advantage, starting from nothing (or the line in the dirt where early athletic contests started).”
Dan Giusti, founder of Brigaid, in one of his schools' kitchens.
To help raise the funds needed for Brigaid’s program, the company holds fundraisers like the August 4 one in the Napa Valley. Giusti wants to expand his concept to other parts of the country, and many Napa and Bay Area chefs are behind his project.
looking for high-need school districts with six or more schools. It wants to
work with districts that have food service directors already in place and have
large, self-operating kitchens that can serve a large number of students. In Giusti’s
innovative model, the kitchens could be used after school hours as catering
sites for the chefs, further developing the funding base for their lunch
programs and other opportunities. As Giusti puts it, “The goal is to develop
Brigaid as one of the best school food-service programs in the United States.”
Who knows? It may be coming to one of our neighborhoods sooner rather than later.