A School Chef’s Fresh, New Approach In Santa Cruz

Who is Chef Jamie Smith? Well for starters he is IN Nevada County right NOW helping us understand how we can create a Scratch Cooking program for our county schools! He has accomplished some amazing things with the food service department in Santa Cruz City Schools, read more below about the milestones he has hit recently!

Wed 04 Apr 2012
Story by The Food Revolution Team

Jamie Smith joined the Santa Cruz City (CA) schools as the Senior Manager of Food Services & Nutrition in 2009. Jamie came to public schools from a celebrated chef’s career, including stints at prominent New York restaurants, opening his own restaurant, and finally as Chef de Cuisine in both University and food service management settings.


Scratch Cooking & Salad Bars

Jamie took the Santa Cruz schools job believing he could bring seasonal local produce, scratch cooking, and sustainable practices into school breakfast and lunch. Unwilling to hear “no,” he basically converted his elementary schools to scratch cooking overnight, by eliminating the outside food service vendor.He handed his staff new knives and showed them additional knife skills – “because that’s what cooks do.” When a failure in a storage freezer that first winter caused the department to lose a pile of (insured) processed foods, Jamie took it as a sign, and he hasn’t looked back.

He quickly opened up relationships with local farms to sell fruits and vegetables to his schools. Every elementary and middle school now has a salad bar. They offer “take-as-much-as-you-care to eat” sides of fruit and veg with any meal. That generous program replaces traditional a la carte sales of non-nutritious foods, which have been eliminated.

Smart Marketing

Jamie is also smart about marketing his program, initiating a total rebranding of the cafeteria, to make school food attractive and remove stigmas attached to eating it. “Surf City Café” is the new moniker for school food. There is a new, fun logo, staff wear attractive hats and aprons and Jamie created a colorful, full-year menucalendar complete with recipes, fun and attractive photos, and monthly Farm to School info and farmer profiles (the calendar is here and you can grab a template here).
Jamie sent a letter to every parent in the district, explaining how high participation in school lunch could save the community huge amounts of money. Surf City Cafe has an attractive, helpful new website, with a bilingual FAQ. This year, students are being invited to take part in “You Choose the Menu” one day a month. End result? School meal participation increased by 15% in Jamie’s first two years.

Flavored Milk As A Treat

And what about flavored milk? Santa Cruz has taken the unique approach of offering chocolate milk once a week, as a treat. Since no desserts are ever served, they feel this is a sensible exposure to sweet, chocolate flavor with kids. Jamie worked with his dairy vendor to get a chocolate milk that is fat-free, has half the sugar as usual, no high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and real cocoa. Best of all – he has seen white milk consumption go up markedly! Students are drinking 10% more white milk in four days than they used to in a five-day week.

Taking The Fresh New Approach On The Road

Meanwhile, Jamie takes his food out on the road, conducting cooking demonstrations in front of elementary schools every other Wednesday. That approach expanded into helping kid’s access good food during the summer break. Jamie now takes a mobile barbeque out on the road each week to Summer Feeding sites and promotes a “come one, come all” community BBQ featuring freshly prepared healthy sides and entrees to help eliminate the stigma of a “free meal handout”.
This year, the first two Santa Cruz schools are taking part in universal “Breakfast in the Classroom” Jamie knows that good food is only valuable if lots of people are trying it!

Jamie Smith is committed to teaching others. His first step was to empower his food service staff for these big changes, giving them additional training and those famous knives. But he also created a secondary curriculum – “Culinary Food Service Assistant”-that he teaches. Students participating in that course are leaders in spreading the values of the Surf City Café thoughout the school system.

Jamie Smith also works with the California Dept. of Education and USDA doing culinary trainings and farm to school workshops around the State, sharing his resources.

The “Surf City Café” is bringing the values of the Santa Cruz Wellness policy to life. Chef Jamie Smith and his team are showing that scratch-cooked food can be produced on-budget in our schools.

The Food Revolution Team

More information:
Surf City Café website
View some of Jamie’s scratch recipes online here
Transparent, public, year-to-date information