Cody Williams’ jaw dropped when he first compared the cost per serving of a school lunch in Sonoma to the meals he had only recently prepared at Mustard’s Restaurant in Napa. New to the job as food services director for the entire school district this fall, he has adjusted quickly and has ambitious farm-to-table plans for our schools.
Williams is the first classically trained, professional chef to hold the district’s food services job. For the past two years, he has been the chef de cuisine of the Boon Fly restaurant at the Carneros Inn. He has also held chef positions at the Fairmont Mission Inn and at Mohonk Mountain House in New York. Williams graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York with an associate’s degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management.
Williams inherited a meal calendar that had already been set for the year by his predecessor, Donna Luzzi, who was retiring, and he is continuing her hard work of trying to get produce from the school gardens onto lunchroom trays.
If you haven’t eaten in a school lunchroom since you were a student, many things are different and many are exactly as you remember. Items on the elementary school menu include new entries like beef soft tacos, stuffed bread sticks and mandarin orange chicken as well as some traditional items like mac and cheese, spaghetti and pork chop patties.
Lunch costs $2.75 for students in the elementary schools, $3.25 at the two middle schools and $3.50 at the high school. Approximately 50 percent of all Sonoma public school students currently receive free breakfast and lunch, and an additional 9 percent qualify for a reduced price. These percentages are increasing slightly every year.
If you factor in the students who bring their own lunch, or the legions of high school students who buy their lunch off-campus, you don’t have a lot of cash coming in to fund the lunch program. According to Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese, the district has an annual food services budget of $1.9 million that is largely offset by state and federal funds for free and reduced price lunches.
Students who don’t qualify for a free or reduced price lunch pay with cash, or families can pre-pay for meals via a web-based school lunch payment program. No child ever goes hungry. Parents are called if a child arrives with no way to pay for lunch, and students are offered an alternate lunch until the account is brought current.
Williams’ overriding goal? “I hope to find the balance between foods cooked fresh, in a consistent way that is not overly time-consuming or over budget. I want to serve foods that are grown and sourced locally, that are minimally processed, and offer the most beneficial nutrients possible.” He is eager to encourage healthy eating by offering lots of produce, preferably from the school gardens, and by using fresh ingredients. You can see a very detailed list of the ingredients of every item served at the schools online at web1.sonomavly.k12.ca.us/ingredients.php.
Everyone seems to agree that fresh and local is better. To that end, every Monday the district receives deliveries from Salinas-based Coastline Produce of fresh fruits and vegetables that might include pineapples, melons, watermelons, grapes, kiwi, mangos, spinach, carrots, green beans, beats, celery, cucumbers and jicama.