Elaine Corn: Georgeanne Brennan's thick hair is tucked under a
net. She roams the Davis school district's Central Kitchen with a
plastic spoon. Several dishes destined for a dozen lunchrooms are
ingenious combinations of US commodities and local vegetables.
Georgeanne Brennan: Ummm…pasta salad. Commodity
elbow macaroni. Fresh zucchini, raw. Fresh pattypan, red peppers,
extra virgin olive oil, feta cheese.
Commodity feta cheese? Brennan peers through her big
Brennan: It's a feta cheese crumble in a 5-pound
bag, works for me.
EC: Brennan is the award-winning author of more than 30
cookbooks. She's here to take the institution out of institutional
Brennan: I come in essentially as a home
cook. The whole idea is to prepare
flavorful food that kids will like to
EC: The surprise is what kids like. Zucchini? Brennan keeps it
simple -- like this side dish just out of the oven.
Brennan: This is a patty pan and zucchini that's
been seasoned with salt and pepper and a little bit of pa
prika and roasted in the oven.
EC: Brennan teaches cooking at her farmhouse in Winters and
also in the south of France. Her role here is also to teach, but
this lunch crew is not beginners.
Brennan: These are really creative people in here.
They don't need somebody like me coming in saying now do this and
now do that. The know how to cook, they know how to serve, they
know how to chop.
EC: Brennan's first class several years back was an olive-oil
tasting. Another class took butternut squash through the effects of
steaming, baking, and turning it into soup.
Brennan: After every cooking class, we serve it,
beautifully present it. We all sit around a large oval table and
share our food and talk about it and think about
how it might work for them.
EC: What works follows a priority to use local fruits and
vegetables. "Local" means within a 300-mile radius of Davis.
Today's teriyaki chicken goes with Salinas broccoli over organic
rice grown 20 miles away. It wasn't always so culinarily utopian
here. Ann Evans, a former Davis mayor, was once a Davis school
parent. She wasn't ready for a potluck where one mom showed up with
Ann Evans: Not only is that food of minimal to no
nutritional value, but the waste was
EC: Ten years ago, Evans and Brennan joined with parents,
businesses and school officials to form Farm to School, the booster
club for everything food in the Davis school system. Davis became
the first city in the country to pay for local produce for school
lunch -- and for Brennan's expertise -- with a parcel tax. Instead
of adding kitchens to schools that didn't have them, the booster
club backed this $1.4 million Central Kitchen.
A shrink-wrap machine seals containers. Rotating ovens hold 36
pans at a time. Rafaelita Curva is Student Nutrition Services
director at the Central Kitchen. Curva agrees with the booster
club's philosophy of waiting for students to like what's good for
Rafaelita Curva: Just because a food is not
particularly liked by students on their first try, that we stop
serving it. No.
EC: Curva draws on Brennan to work the lunchrooms with student
Brennan: That's the best time to get them, when
they're waiting in line. They're starving to death and they'll try
EC: Yes, Brennan says, kids eat beets.
Brennan: And they were Chiogga striped beets. We
had volunteers offering little samples. And they would have this,
OOOOH, that's good.
EC: Georgeanne Brennan says any school district can have a
Central Kitchen like this one in Davis. All you need for great
school lunch is a booster club that loves food as much as