LUSD was one of six national Champions of Breakfast Award winners from California, selected for outstanding achievements within the National School Breakfast Program. A large component of what makes the food at Lakeside so special is their dedication to speed scratch cooking. Jim explains, “Speed scratch is taking processed items in a raw form and pulling ingredients all together to create a singular tasty meal.” Jim believes that the key to integrating speed scratch into a meal program is to start slow with one item, get really good at it, and from there it will snowball on its own.
Re-Engineers School Food
Jim Dumars, Executive Chef at Lakeside Union School District (LUSD), is always thinking creatively and outside the box for developing new recipes for student meals. Whether it is a giant parmesan meatball or the spicy bean dip, you can guarantee Chef Jim is going to cook up something tasty. On a typical morning, the Lakeside Union central kitchen will be extremely busy preparing scratch-made meals for all 2,400 of their students. You can often find Mr. Dumars jumping from station to station and stirring stews and sauces in enormous steel kettles.
Chef Jim grew up in the food business. His father was a seafood broker and had fish markets in Long Beach, California. After Jim graduated from the Culinary Academy in San Francisco, he continued to garner food service experience while working in hotels, restaurants, and resorts around the country.
Sally Spero, Director of Child Nutrition Services (CNS) at LUSD, saw Jim’s dedication to improve and expand the district’s single choice lunch options. Fortunately for Sally and the CNS Team, she was able to recruit Jim as a partner to support the mission of integrating speed scratch cooking into their school meal program.
Over the past seven years, Jim and Sally have written a book of recipes they developed while working for the district. Jim recalls one of his many success stories of incorporating plant-based foods into recipes, “When we created the cheese sauce for our Mac N Cheese, we wanted to dial down the amount of fat, yet we needed the cheese to provide enough protein.” To achieve this goal, Jim incorporated white bean legumes, onions, cauliflower, and garlic into the cheese sauce.
Jim enjoys “re-engineering” the process of developing a recipe, which he describes as starting with the dietary components of the dish, then building the recipe out from there. “I love the science aspect of it, it’s a challenge because when working for a fancy restaurant, they don’t worry about how much cream they’re pouring into that sauce. Nobody cares, they just care if it’s delicious.” Jim welcomes the challenge of creating a dish that meets the dietary guidelines, and that tastes great as well, “I truly enjoy collaborating with Sally, we always bounce ideas off one another and collaborate when we decide to go down a direction with a recipe.”
As for the food served at LUSD, Jim and the CNS team will not serve any food that they would not eat themselves, and they would eat everything off the menu. The CNS team ensures that when students go to lunch, they have fruits, vegetables, and quality protein available for them on the cafeteria line. “All of our staff have a commitment to quality, and we have a lot of pride that goes behind the food.”
On occasion, students visit Jim and the CNS team at their central kitchen facility. Students are in awe when they tour the production kitchen for the first time, amazed by the shiny equipment and the enormous refrigerator, which can almost fit an entire class inside.
During tours, the CNS team likes to demonstrate how to properly use a can opener to the students, an educational lesson that students will use for the rest of their life. Jim uses these tours as an opportunity to connect with Lakeside students, “We try to inspire the kids to eat the food. If we can get them to be more connected to the kitchen itself, they better understand where their food came from.”
If you’re interested in cooking a recipe from Chef Jim’s extensive recipe book, see below!