edible nutrition

SCHOOL LUNCH REIMAGINED

Seasoned chef gives Davis students the local-food treatment.

WRITTEN BY ANN M. EVANS
ILLUSTRATION BY HANS BENNEWITZ

Chef Dominic Machi 001

America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital region has one more prong in its fork: school lunch. Dominic “Dom” Machi, director of student nutrition services and executive chef, and his seasoned team of cooks at the Davis Joint Unified School District’s student nutrition services department are bringing Machi’s scratch-cooking model — with locally sourced, high-quality ingredients — to students in United Way’s Healthy Meals program from Auburn to West Sacramento, as well as in the Davis school district.

Healthy roots

Machi was born into an old San Francisco, Italian food family. His first food jobs were working alongside his father in the family’s butcher shop and helping with crab feeds in high school. He attended culinary school and learned the famous dishes of the iconic French chef Auguste Escoffier in fine restaurants.

Now, Machi is dishing up healthy, delicious, house-made salad dressings, sauces, street tacos, and more for students and, on occasion, administrators and teachers. Machi says that, throughout all of the school venues, 70 percent of what he serves is scratch food. He also says he is saving money doing it and putting those funds toward sourcing restaurant-quality ingredients. In the school district’s central kitchen in Davis, Machi and his staff turn out 4,500 meals a day.

In another twist, the National School Lunch Program is yet again reimagined at Davis Senior High School, as students can enjoy meals from his DJ Eats food truck. The food truck serves 100 percent scratch-made food; there is no “mystery meat,” as students call it. When the new cafeteria at the school is remodeled at the end of 2018, district officials will use the truck in various spots around the school district.

“Food sold from the truck meets all the program’s requirements,” Machi says.

The truck is only part of a new model for serving school lunch, however. Machi also makes, as noted, about 70 percent of the district meals from scratch and about 55 percent to 60 percent of all food is locally sourced. The house-made items are a model not only for the region, but also for the state.

Machi prepares entrées such as oven-baked breaded chicken over mashed potatoes, street tacos with chicken and homemade tomato salsa, and steak sandwiches on whole-grain sourdough rolls. Anything not made from scratch, such as the rolls, which are made in nearby Pittsburg, are made to the chef’s and the federal lunch program’s specifications. Other lunch entrées include his house-made soups, such as zuppa di fagioli (a bean and vegetable soup with pasta in chicken broth) in the winter, and in the summer, pasta salad with fresh pesto. When possible, the basil comes from school gardens.

According to a longstanding agreement between the Davis school district and its community partner, Davis Farm to School (Davisfarmtoschool.org), Machi uses produce grown within a 300-mile radius and purchases directly from local farmers when possible. A district parcel tax allocates additional funds for local purchases to support farm-fresh food made from scratch.

Early growth

Davis Farm to School, founded in 2000, was the first farm-to-school program in the Sacramento region. During the past 17 years, the program has supported the district in achieving its goals of putting seasonal salad bars in every school, reducing and reusing waste, growing school gardens, and scheduling farm field trips as a hands-on adjunct to the learning experience.

Machi meets farmers at an annual meeting that Yolo County’s Agricultural Commissioner John Young supports, which pairs representatives of bulk buyers (such as schools) with local Yolo County farmers. For example, Machi purchased 8,000 pounds of tree-sweetened oranges in a six-week period this winter from Sparks Ranch Oranges near Winters.

“The students ate more oranges than ever before,” Machi says.

Other farms and ingredients featured on school lunch menus include Frank Stenzel’s Kiwi Farm in Butte County (250 pounds per week in season) and Davis’ Fiery Ginger Farms’ baby lettuce.

“Scratch cooking is less expensive and better quality, and I have more control over the nutritional requirements of the USDA such as fat, salt, sugar, and calories,” Machi says.

Machi’s five-year goals are to make 90 percent of what he serves from scratch, to hire employees with culinary skills, to develop a fleet of food trucks, and to hire a forager to increase the amount of local, available products. He also plans to create a Facebook page for the school district’s student nutrition services department so parents and community members can see the work being done on a daily basis.

“It’s all about the flavor, the children’s health, and the local economy,” he says.

Adding more depth to the moniker America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, large urban school districts — such as Sacramento City Unified, Elk Grove Unified, and Washington Unified — are joining the smaller, rural districts in Yolo County in the effort to integrate more farm-fresh meals into their offerings. These large districts essentially are the largest restaurants in their communities. The Capital region has a long way to go in feeding farm-to-fork meals to all students, but it’s on the path thanks to Machi and his crew.

Ann M. Evans is an author and year-round kitchen gardener who lives in Davis. Her latest book is The Davis Farmers Market Cookbook (Elderflower Press, 2016). For details, visit Annmevans.com.

Resources

For details about the Davis Joint Unified School District student nutrition services department farm-to-school-lunch program, visit Djusd.net/student_nutrition_services

Recipe

Artichoke frittata

(courtesy of Dom Machi, director of student nutrition services and executive chef, Davis Joint Unified School District in Davis. Serves 6)

This recipe was handed down to Machi by his grandmother Florence. Nana Machi would make this frittata once a week as a lunch or snack for the hungry fishermen in the family who were working on the San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf. The recipe easily adapts to any spring vegetable — replace the artichokes with 2 cups of chopped raw vegetables.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound baby artichokes, ends of leaves and stems trimmed, sliced into thin wedges

¼ teaspoon sea or kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (or 1 teaspoon each chopped fresh oregano, rosemary, and thyme)

¼ cup water

2 garlic cloves, minced

8 large eggs

1½ tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1 tablespoon pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated

Add olive oil to 10-inch, heavy, nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Sauté artichokes, stirring often. Add salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. Add water, reduce heat to low, and cover skillet to steam artichokes for 15 minutes or until done. Once artichokes are tender, add garlic and stir frequently for 1 minute. Set aside.

Beat eggs in medium bowl. Whisk in 1 tablespoon each Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Pour egg mixture into skillet with artichoke mixture and swirl to distribute eggs evenly. Cover skillet and cook over lowest heat 35 to 40 minutes. Frittata is done when toothpick inserted in center is clean when removed. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese on top. Place plate on top of skillet, flip upside down, and invert frittata onto plate. Cool to room temperature and serve.

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