The debate over school lunches attracts celebrity chefs, angry parents and expert dieticians, many of whom vilify lunch ladies and school administrators while taking a “my way or the highway” approach to nutrition reform. But last year, local conscious caterer and professional chef Greg Christian founded the Organic School Project to work with parents, administrators and the food-service provider for Chicago Public Schools.
Through the program, Christian planted vegetable gardens with students and oversaw the implementation of a health and wellness program in three pilot schools. In April, he rolled out a lunch program that focuses on organic foods, whole grains, local produce and hand-preparation (think organic cheese and sausage pizza with a mixed green salad) at Lincoln Park’s Alcott School.
With a new school year about to dawn, Christian is moving out of CPS and plans to bring healthy school lunch reform to other Chicago area school districts.
Q. What do you wish you could change or pickle and preserve about the Chicago restaurant/ food scene?
A. I like all the little ethnic places I go to that are reasonably priced. I don’t like that there’s not a good local food system. You’ve got guys like Paul (Kahan of Blackbird), Chuck (Charlie Trotter) and Rick (Bayless of Frontera Grill), who charge up to $40 for an entree featuring farmers market food. I don’t begrudge them, but we need a two-tiered pricing system because only about the top 25 percent of people can eat out at those places.
Q. What would your last meal be?
A. I know it would be at Taillevent in Paris. When I was there 10 years ago, I almost fell out of my chair it was so good. I’d probably eat whatever the special was, though I’d probably like some foie gras, then some game, and then I’d ask the pastry chef to make whatever they wanted.
Q. Where do you like to eat before or after a shift?
A. Amitabul (6207 N. Milwaukee). They have great vegan Korean food, and two floors of clay jars with 12-year-old aged miso. I never use a menu there. Those guys are like healers, and they know what you need.
Q. What’s the can’t-miss dish at Greg Christian Catering?
A. We’re using a lot of Tallgrass hormone-free beef. Any of the entrees that feature the beef are good.
Q. What should we know about the school lunch situation that we probably don’t?
A. The federal subsidy for school lunch is $2.47. Once you figure in the costs of disposables like napkins and plates, the cost of labor, etc., there’s only about 55 cents left to cover actual food cost.
Greg Christian Catering; 1103 W. Grand Ave., Chicago (312) 666-4466