Restaurant to Cafeteria: Why I Became a School Food Chef

One of our inn chefs, James MacPherson, has struck out as a school chef. We aren't responsible (though we are a little proud), but we love to see the farm to school connections being made across the state, and we wanted to know why he made the switch. So we asked him. Here's what Chef James shared with us.

Post by James M. MacPherson, Shelburne Farms and Richmond Elementary School

I was born in Surrey, England, and have twenty-two years of experience in the kitchens of Europe and North America. Starting as an apprentice at age 15, I have cooked in some of the best restaurants in England and the Channel Islands (including several Michelin-starred hotels), the French Alps, and as a chef on private yachts in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. I’ve always shopped at local markets to find the freshest food possible.

Since moving to the United States, I’ve worked in restaurants in Maryland and Vermont, including the Inn at Shelburne Farms for the last five seasons (and where I’ll continue to work part-time in season).

But this year, I started as the chef at the Richmond Elementary School.

Some might wonder why a chef like me would move from fine dining and catering to a school cafeteria. To me it makes complete sense.

I am passionate about good food, healthy kids, and sustainable food systems. In a school, I have the opportunity to share that passion with kids. I can share my vision of what makes food great and my belief in working towards and supporting local, sustainable food systems. No child should go hungry or undernourished, and feeding them well starts with getting the best ingredients. Let’s grow kids!!

My work makes a difference in children’s lives.

(An added bonus is that by working school hours, I get to spend more time with my family, which is also important to me.)

Sitting down for lunch at Richmond Elementary is about more than just eating food; it’s an experience. As the school’s chef, I look forward to developing children’s cooking classes, educating parents and students about home cooking, initiating field trips to local farms, and inviting farmers to the school to talk about their work and produce. I want to work with all those involved to make our school stand out and give our children the head start they need to build strong bodies and minds.

I also look forward to Richmond Elementary School becoming a Vermont Fresh Network member, increasing our local purchasing, and strengthening our partnerships within the movement. I believe our lunches could serve as models for what schools can and should serve. School food is all about being creative with what we have (i.e, USDA foods and USDA nutrition requirements) and jazzing it up with local ingredients.

Vermont is a special place. We have so much local food on our doorstep and tremendous farm to school resources at our fingertips. I am excited to be welcomed into a school that values using fresh, sustainable food from our area farms. I plan on doing all that I can. I plan on being the chef that makes a difference.

Check out these recent videos about Richmond Elementary as a “Cool School” from MyChamplainValley. It includes an interview with James. Or check out the  Richmond Elementary’s Farm to School blog.

Richmond Elementary School was a Farm to School Institute participant for the 2014-2015 school year. The Institute is held annually by VT FEED, a collaborative farm to school project of Shelburne Farms and NOFA-VT.

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