This food establishment serves over 8,000 lunches and 3,000 breakfasts daily. Items on the menu for this month include a turkey lavash wrap, orange chicken with fresh stir-fried vegetables in a rice bowl, and penne pasta with marinara sauce and a French baguette. Such are the culinary delights available at the school cafeterias in the Santa Clara Unified School District.
“What makes us different is that we have a professional chef on staff,” says Juan Cordon, a food service consultant for the Santa Clara Unified School District’s Child Nutrition department. “This chef provides recipes and has opened our world on different foods to use, like Swiss chard in macaroni salad, which adds a gourmet and healthier touch to our food. We also started bringing in kale for our soup because this chef showed us different ways to use healthy ingredients. He also trained a lot of our staff on different cooking techniques. We started playing around with higher-quality ingredients and cooking from scratch.”
The chef’s name is Robert Mencimer and he is a supervisor with the Santa Clara Unified School District’s Child Nutrition department. In his 15 years as a chef, Mencimer also worked at Left Bank restaurant and ran his own catering company. A graduate of the San Francisco Culinary Academy, Mencimer is keen on making sure students in the district have access to healthy dining options.
“Our menu gives kids a chance to have foods they might not always have at home,” Mencimer says. “I have three kids. Currently two are students in this district. So I want all the kids here to have fresh food.”
Cordon, Mencimer, and their team serve 23 schools in the Santa Clara Unified School District with about ten different menus on a given month.
“We serve over 11,000 meals a day, making us the largest food service operation in Santa Clara,” Cordon says. “We run our cafeterias more like restaurants. Our goal here is to serve meals to the students that are as pure as we could make them and that also meets all state and federal guidelines.”
“We want to serve more home-style items using real products with fewer preservatives,” Cordon continues. “For example, this summer, I found a local bagel vendor. Right now, we’re serving organic bagels with organic cream cheese. Our kids get organic hamburger buns. We use natural beef in our hot dogs, meaning that these hot dogs are 100% nitrate free. We’re using some natural chicken breasts and some natural ground beef in some of our schools- this meat is hormone-free and antibiotic-free.”
According to Stan Garber, principal of Cabrillo Middle School, students often tell him how much they enjoy their cafeteria meals.
“I knew that the remodeled kitchen would help provide better, more nourishing food for students, but I didn’t know that it would raise their spirits and make them feel more respected,” Garber says.
“We strongly believe there’s a connection between good food and better learning,” Cordon says. “We want to play a role in students’ ability to learn.”
Visit www.santaclarausd.org and click on the Child Nutrition quick link for more information.