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School Food Hero Spotlight: Brigaid Chef Stefanie leading the way in school cafeterias

Brigaid is a community of professional chefs committed to using their culinary expertise to help food service directors achieve their goals.

Chef Stefanie preparing scratch-made pizza at North Monterey County Unified

Our friends at Brigaid play a key role in enabling food service directors and their teams to create delicious, nutritious, and culturally relevant food for their students. Where Eat Real leaves off with a framework and plan to achieve their goals, Brigaid picks up the baton by working with districts to develop and implement new recipes that align with their Eat Real certification goals.

Meet Chef Stefanie

In partnership with Director of Nutrition Services & Wellness at NMCUSD, Sanra Ritten, Chef Stefanie is currently working with Eat Real Certified district North Monterey County Unified to make huge improvements to scratch cooking and minimal processing in their schools’ cafeterias.

With transparency at the forefront, Chef Stefanie and NMCUSD have made efforts to bring students and parents into the conversation about school nutrition. New menu items have been introduced that cater to student and regional demographics and QR codes have been added to new menu items to gather student feedback. Learn more about Chef Stefanie and her passion for supporting the nutrition of our kids!

Chef Stefanie: Brigaid is a company that places professional chefs in institutional kitchens, such as schools, prisons, and senior centers. They hire chefs to work with a specific program and help them achieve their goals with the idea that chefs bring a different level of lived experience and skill sets to these kitchens. I have followed the company since its inception, and the mission to feed everyone wholesome food, not just those who can afford it, has always stuck with me. I was searching for a way to impact my community more with the skills I studied and trained for in my early career, and this job seemed like the perfect fit for me. It’s such a pleasure to be a part of this team, and I can’t wait to see what my future with Brigaid looks like!

North Monterey County Unified’s Nutrition Services and Wellness team

Chef Stefanie: I grew up cooking and baking with my grandmothers and started working in kitchens very young and always had a love for serving others. I got my bachelors in hospitality and got an accelerated degree in culinary arts and began my professional career in Napa Valley, California. From there I worked in restaurant kitchens in San Francisco, but most recently I opened a restaurant with a group in Colorado as their Executive Chef.

Chef Stefanie: Brigaid has been incredibly thoughtful in its approach to placing chefs in institutional kitchens. The interview process is thorough and generates the best of humans to join the team. The onboarding process is intensive and really outfits us with all the information that is important to start on this journey. From there, we are provided with ongoing leadership training and opportunities to collaborate with other chefs across the country. I would not be as successful in my role without the experiences and opportunities shared with me.

Follow @nmcusdfood and @chefffy_smith for behind the scenes look at NMCUSD’s kitchens

Chef Stefanie: I think that it’s important to know that there are really great opportunities in this space. A lot of times chefs overlook institutional spaces and write them off as not being professional places of work. I think I have grown more as a chef in regards to organizational and managerial skills than any other kitchen I have worked in. There are so many avenues to explore creativity and working with local purveyors. But most importantly the impact we can make is great, and it is so fulfilling to know that the work we do is needed and appreciated.

Chef Stefanie: The Eat Real standards have given our district guardrails to work within and help steer us in the right direction in terms of making sustainable and responsible choices.

Since joining Eat Real’s certification program, NMCUSD has:

  • Increased from 5 local vendors to 11 vendors
  • Removed 15 pounds of added sugar per student per year
  • Increased the use minimally processed ingredients by an average of 21% across menus

Cheers to Chef Stefanie for all they are doing with the NMCUSD Wellness team to ensure students are fed healthy, delicious, culturally relevant, and planet sustaining meals every day!

Founded by former Noma head chef Dan Giusti, Brigaid provides practical solutions and hands-on training to institutional food service programs. Brigaid partners with several more school districts around the country and has expanded their reach into institutional kitchens of all kinds, equipping chefs to work within the parameters of federally-funded food assistance programs to provide organizations with practical solutions and hands-on training that facilitate improved outcomes for those they serve. Learn more at their website and Instagram @brigaid.