Celebrating a Brand New State-of-the-Art School Kitchen

Vincent Matthews

The other day I enjoyed a truly delicious lunch with food from many different cultures. There were multiple entrees to choose from: Oven-fried rice with egg rolls, crunchy tacos, caprese salads, and fresh turkey sandwiches. Sides included organic tomato soup, carrots, melon, and a variety of whole fruits.

I’m describing a meal served in SFUSD’s new McAteer Culinary Center. Last week we celebrated the grand opening of a brand new state-of-the-art kitchen, where fresh meals are prepared and distributed to Early Education sites and the two high schools located on the McAteer campus (The Academy and Ruth Asawa School of the Arts).

And let me tell you — when I attended what used to be called McAteer High School and ate in that very same cafeteria as a student, the school food was different.

A New Center for Cooking and Eating Healthy School Meals

The McAteer Culinary Center serves as a model for a central kitchen for the district, a place where SFUSD can create fresh meals from scratch. And the Center improves procurement practices as part of the district’s adoption of the Good Food Purchasing Policy. It reflects our commitment to the health of our students and the overall food system too.

Staffed by the District’s first Chef, Josh Davidson, along with the first Cook and four Assistant Cooks, the new facility consists of energy-efficient equipment. Serving lines offer up freshly-made bulk food rather than pre-packaged meals and a bulk milk dispenser serves milk in reusable cups. The Center has a dishwasher so students can use reusable utensils and dishes instead of disposable ones and a washing machine so they can use cloth napkins.

The space also includes a redesigned dining area that features new furniture, digital menu screens, and graphics of trees and landscapes as part of the student’s request to bring the outside scenery indoors. Just like meals can be a place where family members come together at home, a school dining area serves as a community hub for sharing meals, hosting club meetings, band practice, and more.

The McAteer Culinary Center isn’t the only place where we’re rethinking what school dining looks like. Welcoming dining spaces that students enjoy are an essential part of the school meal experience. We have opened 23 redesigned dining spaces at SFUSD so far, and are currently working on an additional 17 redesigns. Public/private partnerships with the San Francisco Sugary Drinks Distributor Tax, SF Environment and the Someland Foundation as well as a general obligation bond allowed us to complete the Culinary Center and other important student dining experience improvements.

With new furniture, graphics, and artwork, we’re creating student-centered spaces that reflect each individual school, supporting our goal of creating dignified built environments.

Largest Meal Provider in the City

We know that hungry students have a harder time concentrating and don’t perform as well in school as students who eat nutritious meals so we make it our priority to ensure students receive healthy and high-quality meals. This is no small task as SFUSD is the largest meal provider in San Francisco; we serve 7.5 million meals per year to 54,000 students at 136 schools across the City.

Above all, we know that food must not just be healthy, it must taste good. In every school, we’re constantly creating new, student-friendly and tested recipes. We’re exploring new meal service models to make school meals more accessible to students such as Grab n’ Go Carts, Vending Machines, Breakfast in the Classroom, and Second Chance breakfast. We’re working with schools, students, and staff to build on these efforts to create a better school food system and increase the number of students eating and enjoying school meals.

Eventually, our hope is to serve freshly made meals from SFUSD kitchens and chefs to all of our students. Bon appetit!

Header image: Freshly prepared grab-and-go items sit in a refrigerated case inside the new culinary center at The Academy – San Francisco @ McAteer on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)