It’s not often that we get inspired by dishes in the school cafeteria, but Jeremy Barnwell’s school lunches are something else indeed. Not content to just shop for organic fruits and veggies at the farmers market, he grows an abundant garden just outside the school kitchen and harvests crunchy carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli for stir fries, and greens and herbs for salads. Food so fresh and delicious that kids clean their plates at school? Now that’s smart.
We visit Jeremy in the cafeteria to hear what inspires him to feed close to 100 kids on a given day and leave with arms full of food from his garden for our own school lunch for grown ups. Keep reading for the interview & recipe.
What is your favorite cookbook?
Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan
Who is your culinary idol?
Where do you get culinary inspiration?
Eating out a lot, nature, the farmer’s market, art, being in the garden.
Tell us about your dream dinner party–you can invite six guests (real, imaginary, living, or dead) to dinner-what, who, & where?
It would be in Mexico, perhaps at a Mayan temple site. I would have Rene Redzepi and Magnus Nilsson cook for us. My dinner guests would be my wife Alison, Bill Hicks, Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Maharishi, Tina Fey, and Carl Jung.
What’s in your fridge right now?
Cheese, chicken liver mousse from Dai Due, Topo Chico, Real Ale Full Moon Pale Rye, veggies, herbs, and mushrooms from the farmer’s market, salumi from Salt & Time, soy sauce, sriracha, and fish sauce.
What flavors inspire taste memories for you?
Breakfast foods and southern cooking. Venison and wild game. Anything you can hunt or catch yourself reminds me of my childhood. Pretty much anything you would find in a typical East Texas grandmother’s home.
What’s your favorite ingredient?
Salt, it can make or break a dish.
It’s Wednesday night at 6:30. What’s for dinner?
A cheese and charcuterie plate and maybe an arugula salad from our garden. On Wednesdays, I cook lunch for two schools and then teach a cooking class to middle school students. After cooking and cleaning twice already, I’m out of energy to cook for a third time.
Kitchen Inspirations: School Lunch for Grown Ups
Spring Greens with Chicken & Feta :: Vegetable Escabeche
3 c baby greens
1-2 c steamed or lightly sauteed spring vegetables (I used broccoli & snow peas)
1-2 spring onions, sliced
1 c cooked chicken (thinly sliced)
maldon or other coarse sea salt & freshly ground pepper
olive oil + red wine vinegar
1/4 c crumbled feta cheese
In a large bowl, combine greens, vegetables, and chicken. Sprinkle with maldon salt and grind pepper over the top. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and toss to combine. Place on serving plates and top with crumbled feta. Serve with vegetable escabeche on the side.
For Vegetable Escabeche:
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets and blanched in boiling water for 1 minute, then plunged into ice water, then drained
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces and blanched in boiling water for 1 minute, then plunged into ice water, then drained
1/2 small red onion, slivered
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bay leaf
1/2 t EACH coriander seeds, brown mustard seeds, black peppercorns, white peppercorns
1/2 c olive oil
1 c white or apple cider vinegar
1 c water
Pack cauliflower, carrots, red onion, garlic and bay leaf into a wide-mouthed jar. Measure spices into jar, then pour in olive oil. Heat vinegar and water together in a saucepan to a simmer and pour over everything in the jar. Screw the lid on tightly and shake contents. Set aside to marinate for at least 20 minutes. Keeps well for several weeks refrigerated.