Palo Alto Hot Lunch Improvement Project

Gunn High School, October 20, Chef Gerald Hirigoyen

Following the success of our first Palo Alto Tasting Week event in October 2011, a few volunteers are embarking on a project to improve the Hot Lunch program in Palo Alto.

After several meetings with PTA presidents, consultants specialized in school lunches, restaurant chefs, the California Farm to School program, the slow Food movement, the District Food Services and several friends who share the same passion for the topic, I am happy to share some positive news. Alva Spence from Sodexo and Cathy Mak from Palo Alto Food Services are willing to partner with us on this initiative but we will need significant parent, student and staff support to make it successful.

Terman, October 18, Chef Bruno Ponsot

Here are some ideas we are considering for the Palo Alto district:

  • Introducing new healthy and tasty entrees twice a week starting January 2012
  • Moving to seasonal fruits and vegetables through the Buy Fresh Buy Local program
  • Launching a sandwich deli bar in high school
  • Launching a pilot project to cook from scratch in high school
  • Changing the design of the lunch queue to increase adoption of healthy and tasty items

We are looking for a group of volunteers to help us with the initiative, which I would like to call the “Palo Alto Tasty Lunch Initiative”.

Lavanda, October 22, Wine Event

If you are interested in helping with consulting on menu selection, communication within your school, student involvement, fundraising, lunch room organization, farm to school relationships, and more, please send me a quick note indicating your interest.

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Tasting Week 2011 Ends With a Grand Finale

We said goodbye to Tasting Week 2011 on Wednesday, October 26 at Juana Briones Elementary School. It was the last day, but definitely not the least. We had three chefs visiting the school on the same day, as well as the now famous A to Z salad bar from Food Services.

Chef Charlie Ayers at Juana Briones Elementary School.

Chef Charlie Ayers from Calafia Café in Palo Alto (and former executive Chef at Google), took two classes of fifth graders on a discovery of the fifth taste – umami. This taste was discovered in the 1980s by a Japanese researcher. It is the taste that you find in mushrooms, soy sauce and meat. It is also called “deliciousness” – what a wonderful concept! Chef Charlie treated the children like true scientists and explorers – he had them try a roasted shiitake mushroom, followed by a little goblet of soy sauce, followed by beef stock and a crispy parmesan cracker. The children were very focused on the feelings in their mouth and had lots of very scientific comments to make about the amount of sodium in each bite and the aftertaste in their mouths.

Chef Nathan Beriau at Juana Briones Elementary School

Meanwhile, Chef Nathan Beriau from the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco travelled to the land of salt. He brought samples of salt from many different countries: France, England, Hawaii and the Philippines, to name just a few of them. He explained the origin of salt, its role in food preservation and the extraordinary value of salt a few centuries ago. The children smelled, touched and tasted all the different grains of salt. Then to finish off the presentation he gave them each a chocolate cookie he had made (with a pinch of salt!).

Chef Brendy Monsada at Juana Briones Elementary School

Meanwhile, Chef Brendy Monsada was busy making beautiful salads with peeled cucumbers, orzo, tomatoes, and even blue cheese. The children huddled around him with wide eyes as if he were preparing a magic potion. To finish off his workshop, he let the children choose between a lemon tart or a chocolate tart. The children were absolutely thrilled.

Matt Nagle, Principal, Juana Briones Elementary School, Ivan Bertoux, Cultural Affairs Attache, Consulat de France, San Francisco, Rebecca Scholl, Tasting Week, Romain Serman, Consul General de France, San Francisco, Kevin Skelly, Superintendent, Palo Alto Unified School District

We had several famous visitors during this day. The Consul General of France, Romain Serman, along with the Cultural Affairs Attache from France, came to celebrate the final day of Tasting Week. Since “La Semaine du Gout” started off as a French Celebration in France 22 years ago, Romain was thrilled to see how Palo Alto was adapting the event locally. The children from teacher Halimah Van Tuyl took him to visit their rosemary garden and their own class kitchen where they cook every single week. We also were happy to host Kevin Skelly, Palo Alto School District Superintendent, who thanked the Tasting Week team for bringing such a fun event to Palo Alto schools. As his mother always says “much depends upon dinner”.

Thank you to all the volunteers who made this Tasting Week possible. In particular Armelle Soustiel, Carla Matlin, Florence Thomas, Jian Ma, Lea Bowmer and Joel Barbier. And a big thanks to Alva Spence from Food Services for hosting the popular A to Z salad bar.

We look forward to seeing you all next year!

Stay tuned for more exciting news on the website. We will soon be sharing the Chef’s recipes and the progress of our Palo Alto Hot Lunch initiative.

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The path towards better lunches in Palo Alto

Georgeanne Brennan at Terman Middle School

Today, on October 25, 2011,  several Palo Alto parents met at Terman Middle School to eat the school hot lunch and listen to Georgeanne Brennan, award-winning cookbook writer, reporter and specialist in school lunches.

Georgeanne shared her experience in helping the districts of Oakland and Los Angeles to improve their hot lunch programs. She also gave an account of her trip to France, to explore the French school lunches. Georgeanne picked France because of the low obesity rate among children in this country. Highlights of her trip are included in her report attached to the resource page of this website. Georgeanne explained that the success of the hot lunch program in France is not only due to the variety of the menu. Their success is also linked to other factors, namely that lunch follows recess, children must stay at a table during a minimum of 30 minutes, and the food is served in real plates with real knives and forks.

Salad Bar at Terman Middle School

As parents from the Palo Alto district, we then had a healthy discussion about our vision for school lunches and the challenges we need to overcome. In a single hour of discussion, we came up with a flurry of suggestions. They included involving the kids as panelists in the selection of new school lunch items, replacing “sporks” with real forks and spoons, trying out recess before lunch, inviting parents and grandparents to sit down at the table with the children to encourage mealtime discussions, requesting transparence on the origin of foods served in our district, banning certain items from the menu altogether, putting microwave ovens in the schools for children bringing their own lunches to school, setting up a “foodboosters” program for parents to contribute financially to the hot lunch program, expanding the seating options for children to eat lunch, involving local gardens in the food program, and many more ideas.

If we can come up with these many ideas in 60 minutes, imagine what we can do with perseverance, patience and determination throughout this school year. Palo Alto Tasting Week gave us a glimpse into the wonderful possibilities of discovery through food and cooking. This celebration has started a meaningful dialogue on the improvement of food in our schools and the impact of food on our community. This is where it all starts.

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Wine event at Lavanda, downtown Palo Alto

Wine Event at Lavanda

On Saturday 22nd, 2011, in downtown Palo Alto, Lavanda Restaurant opened its doors to a special wine tasting event hosted by “Tasting week”. There, a group of wine aficionados tasted and compared French and Californian wines paired with unique bites. The tasting was blind (wine is revealed at the end) and the organizers, Aurelia Setton, volunteer expert in wine, Rapahel Knapp, Wine importer from returntoterroir and Bruce Schmidt, Lavanda restaurant owner had set up this tasting to be tricky! First, they surprised us with a Picpoul (yes, this is a grape type), which was from France Languedoc region but tasted like a California Sauvignon Blanc! Then, we went on to tasting a Gewurztraminer from Anderson Valley, California. It was sweet and elegant, the majority of the group thought it was a French wine….The 2 reds where just as much of a surprise: the first one was a very nice 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon matched with a delicate chicken liver crostini. I don’t like chicken liver, but this tasted sweet and mild. Loved the pairing! The last wine was a Tannat (a French grape) from the South West of France. The truffled mushroom talagio cheese crostini was marvelous with it!
What a discovery for all of us! Even the Mayor of Palo Alto was there, ready to be surprised.

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Everything you always wanted to know about carrots

chef Craig Von Foerster and Principal Matt Nagle at Juana Briones Elementary school

On Friday Juana Briones Elementary school hosted chef Craig Von Foerster, Executive Chef at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, voted one the top 5 best restaurants in the San Francisco Bay in the Zagat. Chef Craig came all the way from Big Sur with a full carload of…carrots. The kids were a little intrigued at first, but ended up completely enthralled. He showed them the difference between supermarket bagged mini-carrots and fresh carrots from his garden. He showed them white, yellow, and purple carrots. He made carrot soup and pickled carrots. And finished with a giant carrot cake. And while he was preparing his carrots, he answered dozens of questions from the children about his favorite and least favorite foods, his origin, what it is like working in a restaurant, and much more. At the end of the presentation, the children all lined up to get Chef Craig’s authograph on their plate!

chef Craig Von Foerster

A few moms snuck in to grab a taste of carrot soup and to talk with Chef Craig. Next year we need to plan a workshop for parents too!

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October 17 – 21: a whole tasting week at Petits Confettis

Petit Confettis, Mountain ViewEven the youngest child can learn a lot about taste & food!
At Petits Confettis, our preschooler (3 to 6 years old) were challenged during the whole tasting week.
They started with salt, tasted it and used it during an experimental `painting with salt` workshop.
The second day, a sweet workshop brought them into a blind tasting. Such an amazing taste! Almost all the kids recognized the organic jams made by `Nuchi` (located in Los Altos), producing a lot of other organic jams for a non-profit association. The kids were comparing strawberry, apricot, prune and honey to discuss color and share their favorite one!
For the bitter workshop, they got the ability to differentiate chocolate texture and prepared `chocolate roses`.
And last but not least, for the acid workshop, they identified the lemon during a taste and used it to make their own `secret` letter.
At the end of our tasting week, every child went home with a sample of their `taste workshop` and their own `chef`s hat`… homemade.
Such a great week… such a great time… we all had fun and all the chidren came home very proud of their achievement.
Merci! and we definitively sign up for next year!:-)
The Petits Confettis

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Tasting Week “en Francais”

Chef Gerald Hirigoyen at Gunn HS

Today Chef Gerald Hirigoyen from the basque restaurant Piperade visited the advanced French class of Ms Anne Jensen. He gave his entire workshop in French! The students were a bit reserved at first, but when he started cooking the piperade (a basque dish composed of onions, red peppers and olive oil) they asked him many questions. It was hard to resist him, since he prepared sample plates with marinated roasted peppers, smoked ham, marinated anchovies and peppers. Every student finished their anchovies, which just goes to show you that our kids are much more adventurous than we think. For dessert he had prepared a Gateau basque and figs. Delicieux!

Chef Gerald Hirigoyen at GunnHS

At lunch break, PAUSD Food Services presented the A to Z salad bar to Hot Lunch students and offered the salad bar to all 150 staff at Gunn. The Salad bar will take a break until next week before reappearing on Tuesday at Terman Middle School.
Just two more days before the Wine Tasting at Lavanda. It is time to get your ticket before the event is sold out! You can reserve by sending an email to

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