A chef and former school food services director, a food writer and
a cooking instructor illuminate their work
Illustrations by Lucy Conklin
Jamie Smith, Foodsmith
You’ve trained under some of the world’s best chefs, opened your own restaurant, revamped Santa Cruz’s public school food and now run Foodsmith, a sort of personal chef for the 99%. What’s been your hardest job?
The hardest was working for the schools. It was hard emotionally to see the kids not having enough time to eat a healthy, balanced school lunch even though we’d prepared it for them. At a supper program, the kids ate 90% more than they did during the same period at lunch. I can truly attribute that to the environment we’ve created for school lunch. [At dinner] there weren’t these school employees in orange jackets with whistles herding them through.
A perk of your schools job was attending the USDA’s Produce Safety University. What was that like?
It was pretty cool. It was aimed directly at food service directors to train them how to purchase, procure and prepare fresh fruits and veggies. Without actually saying it, they were giving us the wink, wink, hint, hint to buy fresh, buy local [from local farms]—that the safest fruits and veggies are the ones that are handled the least.
Now, with Foodsmith, you’re making gourmet prepared meals with ingredients from local organic farms for just $7 per person. What’s your goal?
We’re going to change the face of fast food to give people the ability to eat together at the dinner table—eating fresh, seasonal and truly healthy food. Everyone benefits emotionally and psychologically when they get to eat together at the table—and without the temptation to go to the supermarket. That’s where the [unhealthy] temptations are. I fall into that trap, too.
Kristina Scrivani, Stone Creek Kitchen
At Stone Creek, you aim to outfit home cooks with the equipment, specialty ingredients and lessons to make the same high caliber dishes that you serve from your prepared foods counter. What do you enjoy about teaching cooking?
I’ve been teaching classes for about 14 years, and it’s this empowerment that comes over [students’] faces. When they’re introducing their families to new cultures and flavors, they feel so much better about themselves. It’s when they say, ‘I’m so grateful because I felt so good and so confident.’
What’s your happiest food memory?
The year I was born, my parents started this 20- year experiment of growing everything we ate except brown rice. My happiest memory was playing a part in the production. Even though I was the littlest, if we were processing the chickens that day, I was the gizzard cleaner. It was a gift that they weren’t moving so fast that they didn’t include me in the what, the when and the why.
How did you get interested in food?
I watched a lot of Galloping Gourmet growing up—chefs are my heroes. We also raised and butchered our own animals. But I guess it boils down to I just hate doing dishes. We had a rule, if you cook, you don’t do the dishes. My mom was an operating room nurse, and from there it grew into where I was the family cook.
A lot of people think of food writing as a dream job. What would surprise people about what you do?
When I was a food critic, sometimes people criticized me for not being tougher, but I know how tough it is to open a restaurant and I’ve never run one before. I was just trying to lend an everyman’s perspective. I think people would also find it surprising how many calories and fat grams it involves. My predecessor’s wife made him quit. At the beginning, I did it just to have a free date night with my wife.
What do you think about how our local food culture is changing?
I love the more casual, seasonal approach. But I’ve written about this in my column—I want to see more ethnic cuisine. I’d love to see a ramen shop, and I’d love to see a soul food restaurant.