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From fine dining to $1 school lunches: The top chef trying to change how Americans eat

Thin Lei Win

Reuters

Rome, Italy  /  Sat, September 21, 2019  /  09:05 am
From fine dining to $1 school lunches: The top chef trying to change how Americans eat

Illustration of a cafetaria. (Shutterstock/Africa Studio)

When Dan Giusti was head chef at Denmark's Michelin-starred Noma, regularly voted one of the world's best restaurants, he served intricately prepared dishes with locally sourced ingredients and lavish prices.

Now he feeds thousands of underprivileged children at public schools in the United States, offering wholesome meals on a budget of $1 apiece through his consultancy firm Brigaid, which last week began training cafeteria staff at nine more schools.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Super excited and honored to be a part of this! Repost from @schoolfoodrocks - We are excited to announce that our friend, @dan.giusti will be joining us as one of the chefs for the 5th Annual 2019 euphoria Greenville Healthy Lunchtime Throwdown, the world’s greatest kid’s cooking competition. Four Greenville County Schools students were selected out of numerous entries to compete on-stage in front of hundreds of spectators on Sunday, September 22nd during the euphoria Greenville Sunday Brunch: Fired Up event. Each competitor will be paired up with their own Michelin-starred chef to cook their dishes during the competition. The chefs will include Curtis Duffy (formerly of Grace, and the highly anticipated EVER in Chicago), Melissa Rodriguez (Del Posto, NYC), Dan Giusti (CEO of Brigaid, former Head Chef of Noma, Copenhagen) and Teague Moriarty (Sons and Daughters, San Francisco). The winner of the competition will have their recipe featured on our lunch menu during the 2019-2020 school year. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for these four Greenville County students, we can’t thank our guest chefs enough for their willingness to work with our students on this competition.

A post shared by Dan Giusti (@dan.giusti) on

Hunger is the most pressing concern at the schools where they work, although the United States' much talked about obesity problem is a huge issue as well, Giusti said.

"The students are not eating much, if anything, outside of school ... so these meals are absolutely crucial," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Connecticut, where he is based.

"We've seen kids trying to steal sandwiches to bring home to feed their families."

Giusti founded Brigaid three years ago and hopes to take its services nationwide, seeing an opportunity to teach Americans what constitutes tasty, healthy food from a young age, said the chef, whose big Italian family inspired him to start cooking.

"The kids that go to these public schools are attending school from a very young age all the way to 18 so you really have an opportunity to get to them in terms of feeding them and getting them to think differently about food."

In 2018, one in nine American households or 37.2 million people were hungry, with the figure going up to one in seven in households with children, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Globally, one in four people, or two billion, lack access to healthy food, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has said.

Read also: Denmark's fabulous food journey, from hearty fare to haute cuisine

A Brigaid chef currently serves three meals a day to more than 3,600 schoolchildren in eight schools in New York City and Connecticut under the National School Lunch Program, which provides free or reduced meals.

The schools receive slightly more than $3 per lunch in subsidies from the federal government and have about $1 per meal to spend on food after covering the cost of labor, equipment and other items such as milk to drink.

This means the ingredients are not always local or organic, but that's the reality, said Giusti.

He said he intended to speak out on issues such as a need for federal policy changes, much the way British chef Jamie Oliver spoke out to help improve school nutrition in the U.K. more than a decade ago.

He said he learned that changing people's minds can take time and patience after taking peanut butter and jelly sandwiches off a school menu.

The move prompted one school boy to cry, and he said he realized the reason he stopped serving the sandwiches was his own ego.

"These are kids who are dealing with really challenging situations outside and inside of school," Giusti said.

"Coming to the cafeteria only to be stressed out even more because they're being pushed to eat something they're not familiar with, or don't want to try, knowing they're not going to eat until the next day, is really crazy."

"At the end of the day we're making it for them. It's not for you. It's not for me. It's not for Instagram."