Just for a minute, imagine being a student at Willow Creek Academy. It’s been a long morning of reading, writing, and maybe some addition. Stomach grumbling, you excitedly line up with the rest of your class to get your school lunch. The smell of potatoes roasting wafts out of the door to the dining room. The classmates around you chatter excitedly, “what do you think Chef Guillaume made for lunch today?!” Finally it’s time for your class to go in, and you see massive trays filled with crunchy roast potatoes, barbeque chicken drumsticks, and roasted zucchini. And behind the trays is Chef Guillaume, grinning proudly as he scoops food onto plates, explaining what’s on the menu and why it’s important to make sure you eat your zucchini, how tasty it is.
School isn’t necessarily looking like this these days, unfortunately, due to the pandemic. And Guillaume misses it dearly. As the head chef at Willow Creek Academy, Guillaume’s favorite part of his job is getting to interact with the kids, getting to educate them and engage them. “My favorite part about working at Willow Creek Academy in the conscious kitchen is actually engaging the students and being able to teach them a little bit about cooking and how fresh food is made and the benefits of eating organically and nutritiously,” he said in our interview over the phone a couple weeks ago.
Guillaume passionately abides by FLOSN (fresh, local, organic, seasonal, nutritious) values in all of the dishes he cooks. “We’ve got to respect where these foods are growing in the ground, in the earth so we’re not going to be putting a whole bunch of different chemicals on the vegetables so that the Earth can be good for or later on. Seasonal is super important because that is where you get the most tasty fruits and vegetables,” he said.
He sees FLOSN values as incredibly important because he can literally see the difference in a child when they eat a bag of doritos vs a bowl of roasted potatoes. The kids need real nutrition and energy to get them through their day. Sure, sugar and chemical filled foods will fill a kid up and give them a short, high intensity, energy burst, but it will leave them groggy and hungry for the rest of the day. The food that Guillaume serves up in his kitchen is the perfect balance of tasty and healthy, and it leaves kids feeling good for the rest of their day.
So how did guillaume come into this role in the Conscious Kitchen, you may be wondering. For most of his working life before Conscious Kitchen, Guillaume worked for large catering companies, restaurants, and bulk food. It was draining work and he needed a change. So one day, when a chef mentor approached him and told him about the Conscious Kitchen, and that they were hiring a chef for Willow Creek Academy, Guillaume knew he had to apply. “It was haphazard that I landed the best job I’ve ever had, but I was just drawn to it because I was burnt out and I needed a change of pace and it was going to be organic and freshly made and all the right things that interested me,” he said.
It hasn’t always been easy. Working within a school system has its own unique challenges. In running a school lunch program, they have to work with both the USDA and Nutrition Board to ensure that the CK values align with theirs. Additionally, they have to work with the administration within the school.
In the bigger scheme of things, the challenge of working with the Conscious Kitchen is that “people in the school system have an idea of how school lunch is and to change anything is hard work to do. School lunch isn’t valued – it’s just part of school. You need to have school lunch, it’s a legality, it’s not looked at like a must to have good food for these kids to go through the day. We are trying to change that.”
The pandemic has presented a plethora of other challenges. Now, instead of communicating with the kids, Guillaume has to convince the parents that the kids should be eating this food, and a part of this is that the parents now have to drive to pick up the meals. This is hard – parents work and can’t always be available to pick up school lunch for their kids. Additionally, it provides challenges in terms of waste. “We’ve gone to 100% waste instead of 0% waste. We’re packing in compostable and potato ware, but it’s still ending up in the garbage. We were washing dishes, places and cups before, not throwing too much away. That has changed a lot,” he said.
Chef Guillaume played a massive role in Conscious Kitchen’s covid relief efforts, cooking in the kitchen 5 days a week, serving meals to the community throughout the summer. His favorite part of this work has been getting to cook his own food, his own recipes, and serving it to a great demographic that appreciated all the hard work he does with staff at WCA and MLK. Coming out of covid, Guillaume hopes to return to a place in which they can have a dining room for the kids to eat their lunch, and to be able to engage students and educate them.
He also hopes that one day, people really understand the importance of school lunch. He wants to see Conscious Kitchens across the country – and to see food going where it truly needs to be going: to kids who deserve great meals.