A former chef at the 'world's best restaurant' created these gourmet school lunches that cost under $US4 to make

Daniel Giusti, a former chef at Noma — a Copenhagen restaurant consistently deemed the “world’s best”  — has left the world of fine dining. Now, he’s taken on an even more daunting task: redesigning the public school lunch.

In January 2016, Giusti launched Brigaid, a startup that aims to put professional chefs in public school cafeterias to improve their lunches.

“We’re constantly asking ourselves: ‘What can be better tomorrow?’ Just like you would do at a restaurant … ‘How can we make this better every day for these students?'” he tells Business Insider.

Later in 2016, Giusti got approval to pilot his program in New London High and Bennie Dover Jackson Middle, two schools in Connecticut. After receiving more than 275 applications to work in the schools, he chose April Kindt and Ryan Kennedy, two trained chefs ready to take on the challenge of making the schools’ lunches tasty, nutritious, and cheap.

The US Dept of Education mandates that lunches cost under $US3.18 to produce, an amount the government reimburses schools for free lunches. That amount (which the Brigaid team has been able to meet) includes the ingredients, transportation, labour, and maintenance costs.

The Obama administration worked to make school lunches healthy, too. The 2010 
Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by former first lady Michelle Obama, set school lunch maximums for calories, cut sodium and trans fat, and mandated more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

On May 1, the Trump administration relaxed some of these rules. In one of his first acts as agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue signed a proclamation that allows schools to not adhere to the whole grain requirements and delay the sodium reductions beginning in the fall. They will also be able to serve 1% flavored milk rather than nonfat.

Classes started in September 2016 for the two schools where Brigaid is piloting its gourmet, healthy lunches. Here’s what the team has come up with so far.

The ingredients for Brigaid's lunches each cost around $1.35, and Giusti's team has been able to keep the total cost under $3.18. Six Connecticut schools now have their own Brigaid chef.

With the new year starting, the team is testing all kinds of dishes, including this beef stroganoff and Caesar salad:

The main entrees rotate every day. On some days, kids get their choice of a sandwich. Options include chicken salad, hummus with roasted vegetables, tomato with pesto, and roasted turkey and cranberry sauce.

Students can also choose from Brigaid's soups, like turkey chilli, pumpkin with spice, tomato, and chicken with rice.

All of the meals are delicious and cheap, Giusti says. The ingredients for these cottage cheese and spinach quesadillas, for example, cost less than a dollar.

Kennedy, one of Brigaid's chefs, developed grilled Adobo chicken handpies with salsa roja, stacked roasted yukon, and a fruit salad with strawberries, blackberries, mango, and mint. The ingredients only cost $1.26.

This school lunch -- baked chicken nuggets with French dressing, zucchini fries, and fruit salad -- meets USDA nutritional guidelines and cost $1.33 to produce.

And the ingredients for these Cuban pork Arepas with a stack of plantains and cilantro-honey mandarin oranges cost even less: $1.28.

One cost-saving strategy is using simple ingredients. For the first marinade of the roasted chicken with brown rice and kale salad pictured below, the team developed a marinade with pureed herbs and veggie oil (which ended up costing just as much as the chicken). The second iteration features dried herbs instead of the pureed herbs, so it cost even less.

The Brigaid team makes a valiant effort to prepare food that the students will love, like these roasted BBQ chicken thighs ...

... as well as dishes that may be new to them, like chicken tikka masala, roasted cauliflower, naan bread, and rice pudding:

The chefs also make sure the vegetables are tasty. One chef came up with broccolini blanched in water seasoned with salt, garlic, and dried chilli ...

... and roasted butternut squash with a brown sugar and paprika butter:

'With a large Hispanic population in New London, we think it is completely unacceptable to serve food that represents their culture and heritage improperly. No more lousy tacos and nachos,' Brigaid writes on Instagram. Here's a photo of Spanish brown rice:

And here's a photo of Brigaid's spicy chicken tacos, Spanish rice, and pickled vegetables. It's served with a popsicle made from fresh pineapple.

Another creative taco features a corn tortilla, roasted chicken thigh, poblano slaw, and sliced radish. Pickled vegetables are on the side.

The team prepared 1,000 chicken quesadillas for lunch at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in Connecticut.

For dessert, the team is testing these baked cinnamon apples.

Giusti says the students' reactions have been mostly positive, and their feedback has been constructive to the Brigaid team. One articulate 10-year-old girl, for example, told her teacher she loved the 'lemon infusion' in the zucchini.

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