By JULIE DRAKE
Valley Press Staff Writer
PALMDALE — Palmdale School District Chef Gino Anaya wants to liven up student lunch menus with nutritious and tasty meal options.
With school campuses closed because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he has an opportunity to develop new menu items and test them out on paying customers, District employees, before students get the opportunity to try them.
Anaya brought the The Lunch Box food truck to the District office on Tuesday morning to serve meals such as Cuban sandwiches, cilantro rice and beans. District employees paid $5 each for lunch.
“It’s just a good sandwich, not too many ingredients, no preservatives or anything like that, all natural,” he said. “It’s about emphasizing the food and let the food speak for itself and the flavors speak for themselves.”
The goal is that when students do return to school campuses and the food truck starts visiting schools again, students will have options for different types of food. Anaya sees food as a bridge.
“I want to use the opportunity to help educate people on different cultures,” he said. “Instead of just saying Latin food, I want to hit specific regions so people understand the difference between Guatemalan food, Ecuadorean food, Cuban food. Because when you say Latin food, people tend to gravitate toward Mexican food. I want to hit more regional-specific type of food so that way people understand there is a whole world of food out there that they might be missing out on. If you don’t try it, if you don’t get exposed to it then you may never know you like it.”
Food can get boring but it does not have to be that way. Anaya hopes that having an exciting lunch to look forward to will encourage students to get excited about being in school once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and it is safe for children and school employees to return to campuses.
“The more we can present to students that makes them excited to be in school, the better they’re going to perform,” he said.
Anaya was inspired by Dan Giusti, an elite chef who started a company called Brigaid, about four years ago. Brigaid chefs partner with K-12 school districts to support and elevate the quality of child nutrition programs, according to its website.
“He talks about it all the time and I agree, in culinary school we’re often put in the mentality of, ‘You have to be in fine dining to be successful. You have to own your own restaurant to be successful.’ And then it leaves institutions like these out in the water,” he said.
Anaya started working for Palmdale School District about three weeks ago. He trained at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. He worked the restaurant circuit, fine dining catering and bakeries. He was hired in 2007 to help revamp the University of the Antelope Valley’s culinary program. He also wrote and developed the university’s baking and pastry program.
“A lot of my background for the past decade has been in education and so that’s where I feel my strengths are going to really help the team there to train the employees to produce this wonderful food,” he said.
Anaya looks forward to hearing from students about what they want and what makes them feel good.
“That’s where listening to the students is important,” he said, adding that student Board members will get to taste his creations first. “We’re here to serve them.”
Anaya will start small with menu options on the food truck, before they transfer it to school lunch menus.
“It’s going to be a carefully executed plan, so that way we minimize waste, minimize confusion and we don’t try to go too big too fast,” he said. “We want to really focus on what students want; that’s key.”