- Chef Dan Giusti used to work at Noma, the Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant that’s been dubbed the “best restaurant in the world” numerous times, where meals cost more than $US350 a head.
- Today he runs Brigaid, a company that’s cooking meals for public school kids in Connecticut and New York.
- The food and labour to make Brigaid meals from scratch costs $US3.41 per kid, per meal, the same price that schools would pay for processed, prepackaged heat-and-serve food (and about 100 times cheaper than the fare at Noma.)
“It’s the first time in my life that I’m actually cooking for other people,” Giusti said.
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Chef Dan Giusti used to serve strips of beef tartare seasoned with ants to his customers at Noma in Copenhagen.
Five years ago, he was the chef de cuisine at what was then considered the best restaurant in the world.
Today, he wouldn’t dream of serving any undercooked meat to his young clients, nor does he garnish any of their toast with fish sperm.
Instead of preparing $US350, once-in-a-lifetime meals, he now runs a company training chefs and school foodservice workers to plate $US3.41 lunches every day for more than 3,500 schoolkids in Connecticut and the Bronx, New York.
“It’s the first time in my life that I’m actually cooking for other people,” he told Insider. “When you’re cooking for someone once in a while, you can surprise them with things, you can spend a lot of money on the food, the food doesn’t necessarily have to be healthy for you. When you’re cooking for someone every day, you’re feeding them.”
The learning curve was steep at first, as Giusti aimed to put his haute cuisine chef’s touch on public school dishes, something a lot of the kids didn’t want, and refused to eat.
Take a peek at a recent Noma meal, side by side with some of Brigaid’s latest cuisine, to see how the federally-compliant meals stack up against a two-Michelin-starred restaurant’s.
Noma and Brigaid each try to use fresh, local produce in their meals as much as possible. Apples appear on the menu at both spots.
One trick that Giusti has instituted from day one at Brigaid has been cutting up fruit instead of serving it whole. That’s how they do things at Noma, and it works here, too.
“They’re five years old, and they have four teeth, and they have 10 minutes to eat,” Giusti said of his new clients.
Cutting up foods like pineapples, melons, apples, and cantaloupe has sent fruit consumption skyrocketing in the New London school district of Connecticut.
Across the Atlantic Ocean at Noma, tiny balls of apple are scooped out of the fruit and back into its hollowed shell, then served up with seeds and a (fake) edible beetle.
At Brigaid, “we can serve some local and seasonal food,” Giusti said, but it’s easier to source farm-to-table at Noma, where there are never more than 56 guests at a time.
When Giusti first started Brigaid, he wanted to remain ambitious with the food offerings. A little too ambitious, he soon learned.
Noma chefs sometimes serve up potted herbs like thyme, with dishes like a creamy soup hiding under the leaves (left).
Kids at the New London and New York schools where Brigaid operates are never offered quite the same, but there were other inventive offerings that Giusti tried on them at first.
One of the most hated, he said, was a Thanksgiving-themed turkey sandwich that included cranberry sauce. The mixture of sweet and savoury was not a hit with the kids, and has now been replaced with simpler options (above right).
“We roast the Turkey, we slice it ourselves, it’s a nice thing, but it’s still very plain, because that’s what kids want,” Giusti said. “The kids who are eating the turkey sandwich want turkey and a slice of cheese, and that’s it. As a chef, you’re like, ‘oh, we gotta put something else on this.’ But why?”
During a recent $US350 Noma lunch meal that Business Insider’s Will Martin attended, his favourite dish was this fruity berry and fava bean salad served ceviche-style with a horseradish oil (on the left).
Brigaid often serves students side salads with homemade Caesar dressing (at right). They are not quite a fan favourite, as the salads are at Noma, but some kids eat them.
For Brigaid, the crowd-pleaser is ravioli pasta, served steaming. “It’s a nice, tasty hot meal,” Giusti said. “They eat everything. It’s satisfying.”
At Noma, lunches and dinners are served in a slow succession of courses, which might be book-ended with edible plants, like the herb soup, and this potted cake served with perfume roses (above right). If customers don’t like one food on the menu, there are so many others to choose from that it’s not going to make or break their meal. That’s not the case for Brigaid.
“First and foremost, we want kids to eat, it’s the most important thing,” Giusti said. “There are kids who come to our schools that are hungry, and they will choose not to eat if there’s not something there [they like].”
Brigaid students have anywhere from 22 to 30 minutes to eat lunch. The multi-course culinary experience at Noma can take three hours.
Even if the kids were amenable to it, there just isn’t time for a presentation of potato and nasturtium flowers (above left), served along with sea buckthorn jelly that’s been shaped into a butterfly. Instead, breakfast muffins are served warm.
At Noma, there are around 20 courses to every meal.
A refreshing bowl of peas and cream comes between other dishes like deep-fried marigolds and a walnut-based “tofu.”
Seaweed is only on the menu at Noma, but Brigaid does make a crunchy kale that’s a similar hue.
The crispy kale is Brigaid’s version of kale chips, and they’re served up with meatloaf and a side of mashed sweet potatoes.
“You’re following very strict nutritional guidelines on these things,” Giusti said.
You won’t find any of Noma’s wild boar pancreas on the menu at Brigaid. “Probably my favourite dish on the menu, the dish we always go to that’s worked since day one, has been barbecue chicken with honey-roasted carrots and corn bread,” Giusti said.
“At a place like Noma, you’re cooking for people once in a lifetime,” Giusti said.
Federal guidelines dictate that gradeschool lunches must include, on average, a minimum of half a cup of fruit a day, three-quarters of a cup of vegetables, and one ounce of meat, or a meat alternative.
One pot chicken noodle soup is on the menu at Brigaid, while at Noma dessert is a three-course affair, which can include berries and cream.
Brigaid’s chicken noodle soup is a homemade blend of carrots, herbs, noodles and meat, while the Noma version of berries and cream comes with orange and purple edible flowers and an assortment of other leaves on top.
At Noma, the food is sometimes extravagantly rich, but it’s not allowed to be that way at Brigaid.
Noma’s plant-minded chefs recently served up this meat-free “shawarma” (above left) made from celeriac and truffles, a veggie kebab that Martin said was “the richest, most decadent vegetarian dish you could possibly imagine.”
There’s no way to know exactly quite how rich the dish is (calorically speaking), but it takes four people the better part of a workday to build and slice the masterpiece, which is cooked, marinated in truffle juice and brown butter, steamed, then brushed with truffle purée, linseed fudge, and celeriac purée. Finally, it’s served up in a mushroom-flavored brown butter sauce.
At Brigaid, nothing can be so indulgent, because there are strict federal salt and fat guidelines all chefs must adhere to.
Kids instead eat stewed chicken in tomato sauce (above right), served alongside Spanish rice and beans, and sweet plantains.
At Noma, a quail’s egg that was cooked at exactly 129 degrees sits on a bed of straw, and is topped with a “chorizo” made from rose hips. Brigaid serves teriyaki chicken atop a different, edible bed of vegetable fried rice.
“I don’t want to be the one who’s saying ‘you have to eat this, you have to try this.'” Giusti said, though he does hope the kids might do a bit of experimenting on their own terms. “I think you should have options for kids to choose, in the sense that they can say, ‘today I want to try something new.'”
Both Noma and Brigaid make their own breads. But only one of the kitchens includes mould.
Noma’s dessert pancake made from moldy barley (on the left) is just one example of how the restaurant experiments with cultured food. It’s enveloping a plum ice cream with balsamic vinegar. The chefs at Noma say these funky foods help unlock more of the flavours in our food.
“There’s a lot of fermentations,” Giusti said. “Miso-like pastes, or vinegars, or oils would be used to season.”
At Brigaid, chefs season foods like rice with spices including turmeric and annatto, and use onions and garlic in addition to salt, but there’s no fermentation at work.
Brigaid recently started offering kids pepperoni pizza on homemade crust.
“Before, [food] was just coming out of a jar, or, really, out of a can,” Kelly Avery, who has worked for 19 years in the New London school district, told Insider.
Avery said pizzas used to be pulled out of a freezer, put on a tray, and shoved in the oven.
“Now everything’s homemade, and it’s a lot better,” she said.
She’s learned new kitchen knife skills, and how to make dressings from scratch.
Both kitchens strive to make some of the best food their customers eat.
“There’s no reason that that should exist in a Noma, and not exist in another restaurant, or workplace, or a school kitchen,” Giusti said.
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