Six years after a construction project gone awry saw the disappearance of Santa Barbara High School’s kitchen, a new one is on its way. The $5 million project to implement a production kitchen capable of serving 4,000 mouths began with the gutting of the former kitchen July 1, and is set to complete by July 2012.
Nancy Weiss, director of the school districts’ Department of Nutrition Services, is thrilled about the project, which she said is an improvement over the remodeling project that failed six years ago. “Six years ago they went to remodel, but they ran out of money. They were going to make the kitchen at Santa Barbara High a central kitchen, and close down all the others,” said Weiss. “Now they’re not going to.” This would have meant that Santa Barbara High’s kitchen produced food for all campuses in the district, reducing freshness and increasing costs of moving meals around.
“The design was for one huge kitchen,” said Weiss, who was instrumental (but not alone) in convincing the school board to scale down the design and put in its own, regular production kitchen, including a proper dining room. “Each campus deserves its own kitchen,” she said.
One leap to be facilitated by the kitchen will be Santa Barbara High’s ability to participate in the National School Lunch Program, which provides low cost or free school lunch to qualified students through federal subsidies. But the program can’t function without a kitchen. “Low-income kids will be able to get a good lunch again,” said Weiss. “It’s the students’ right to have a lunch program.”
Included in the project is implementation of a culinary academy that will enroll 16 students per period, “so that kids can learn the trade while in high school,” said Weiss. It will give Santa Barbara High students with aspirations to attend culinary school or enter the restaurant business post-high school experience with food handling, preparation, and safety.
The new kitchen is also a step toward closing the Santa Barbara High School campus during the lunch period. This, according to Weiss, will help attendance rates and improve nutrition across the board. “When kids go off campus for lunch, it encourages truancy and cutting class,” she said. With the new production kitchen capable of serving 4,000 students, Santa Barbara High’s 2,200 to 2,300 students will have plenty of fuel at their fingertips.
“We’ll have fresh salad bars, fresh pasta, awesome burgers,” food that will help students’ mental endurance more so than, say, a slice of pizza, insisted Weiss, who makes a habit of obtaining ingredients from area sources like organic farms.
The completion of the kitchen, said Weiss, will not mean the end of the Mobile Café. According to Weiss, the three Mobile Cafés that serve each of Santa Barbara School Districts’ high schools, “will continue to supplement everything we do.”
When complete, Santa Barbara High School’s kitchen will be the districts’ biggest; in addition to the coming culinary academy, it will also house the districts’ catering kitchen.
“The new kitchen will enhance the interaction and interplay of community and food on campus,” said Weiss. “It will be a wonderful community celebration when complete.”