not your average lunch lady: jeremy barnwell

Jeremy Barnwell is not your average lunch lady. Tall, bearded, tattooed, and passionately committed to the local food movement, he’s more daring entrepreneur than cafeteria worker.  After years of running a successful pastured poultry operation, he heard his wife bemoaning the lackluster and nutritionally deficient lunches served at The Rawson Saunders School where she is an elementary school teacher, and decided he could do a better job.  No matter that he had not cooked professionally before; he sold the new head of school with his enthusiasm and his big idea to create a local and farm-based lunch program for the school.  Sometimes what you don’t know leads to innovation, and four years later, he has legions of tiny fans and the unwavering support and trust of their parents, grows and harvests fresh produce at the school for his meals, teaches an elective cooking course at Rawson Saunders, has expanded to a second campus, wowed the audience at TEDx Austin with a bento box style lunch, and has plans to grow Barnison Catering even bigger to meet the needs of more kids in the Austin community.  We visit Jeremy in the cafeteria kitchen to see for ourselves the surest sign of his success: kids holding lunch trays piled high with fresh, colorful, just-harvested organic vegetables and fruit, wearing ear-to-ear grins, ready to dig in.

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Tell your brand story in 5 words.

Healthy school lunches, locally sourced.

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What was your first job?

My first job was at age twelve working in a small convenience store/deli/ gas station/feed store that my mom owned in northeast Texas.

What is your biggest motivator?

Knowing that I am changing the way that kids: that will hopefully affect the rest of their lives.

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What has been your greatest mistake?

Trying to do too much by myself. I was always reluctant to hire anyone to help. Since hiring my first employee just this year (the amazing Anne Hargrove), I have watched my business grow significantly. I realized that there are people out there who share the same integrity and passion that I have for putting out an excellent product.

Tell us about your lucky break?

I’ve had so many, but the main two are as follows: 
My brother-in-law was on a flight and began to chat with the flight attendant who lived in Austin. He told her that his sister and I were moving to Austin soon and looking for work. She gave him the phone number of a man running a free-range poultry business in Austin. When I called the farmer to inquire about a job, he replied that he was getting out of the business and was looking to sell his farm. We went to visit and long story short, purchased the property and began our own poultry operation. Things seemed to just fall into place. Through that poultry operation, I had the opportunity to work with some great chefs who re-introduced me to my passion for cooking.
 The second big break was getting the school lunch job at Rawson Saunders School. When I started the poultry business, I hadn’t touched a chicken since I was a kid. Within a few months, we had raised enough birds to sustain a booth at the farmer’s market. When I began serving lunches, I had never worked in a restaurant or kitchen, but within a few short months owned a successful food business. I feel like my whole adult life has been a lucky break.

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Required reading for every food entrepreneur?

Lucky Peach Magazine, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, anything by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.

Who is your business idol?

Joel Salatin

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Words of wisdom:

Be nice and do what makes you happy

What gets you to work every morning?

Knowing that kids are relying on me for their meal. For some of them, it is their only healthy, well-balanced meal of the day.

What inspires you?

Knowing the best is yet to come.

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What other businesses do you come back to again & again?

East Side King. We eat there at least once a week. Habanero’s,
 Barley Swine, 
The Grackle, The Liberty, Contigo.

How do you measure success?

Through happy customers, happy employees and a happy self. Also, if I’m able to create and run a sustainable business that can promote other local business as well as myself without it being a competition, that’s success.

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If you weren’t cooking school lunches, what would you be doing?

I have a degree in aquatic biology so I could see myself working for a fishery or for Parks and Wildlife.
 But in reality, I’d still probably cooking in some respect.

What’s your next big idea?

Room temperature.

Stay tuned later in the week for more culinary inspiration and a recipe inspired by Jeremy’s tasty, healthy lunch menu!


kitchen inspiration: suppli with butternut squash & fresh mozzarella from antonelli’s cheese

Kendall and John Antonelli, cheese mongers, love mongers, and gastronomes extraordinaire, invite us into the tiny, but crammed-full-of-deliciousness Antonelli’s Cheese, where we could spend hours tasting and perusing the expertly-curated cheese selection and all manner of exquisite cheese-related delectables, including freshly baked breads, small-batch jams, nuts, salamis, olives, boutique wine, craft beer, artisanal chocolates, and handmade cheese boards and knives.   Here’s our insider’s peek into where they find culinary inspiration and what you’ll find in their fridge–keep reading for a recipe inspired by one of John’s favorite cheeses.

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What flavors inspire taste memories for you?

John: Fennel, wild thyme, anything my mom cooked when I was a child. And I have very specific memories associated with the following cheeses: fresh mozzarella, Tomme Crayeuse, Comte, and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar.

Kendall: Still-warm, just-picked, sun-ripened tomatoes.

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What’s your favorite ingredient?

John: sea salt, olive oil, cheese.

Kendall: I pretty much agree with John. Almost everything that makes it to our plate is finished with one of those three items in some way or another.

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Tell us about your dream dinner party—you can invite six guests (real, imaginary, living or dead) to dinner-what, who, & where?

Kendall: Yes, I’m a cheeseball, but I swear the first person I’d have to have there is my husband. On the few times we’ve been apart, I’ve enjoyed some great meals, but they just don’t taste as amazing as they could without John there to experience them with me. (Plus, we’re known for ordering way more than we need so we can both share!) I’d also want my father there. My father, who passed away just over ten years ago now, never got to meet John. I attribute much of my love of food and travel to him. He exposed me to five different continents and countless cultures and cuisines before I reached ten years of age, and I feel we were robbed of the opportunity for me to ever tell him thank you for that. Of course, that means our son Everett would have to be there to meet his grandfather – granted, most of his meal would just end up on the floor. From there, it’s a draw. We’ve joked that it would be a great conversation to ask that first person who decided to eat that moldy blue cheese (a.k.a. Roquefort) just what he was thinking. (And to thank him for doing it and not pitching the piece!) While I know I should throw a famous person in there, I really think my dream dinner party would then just come down to a couple of good friends. (After all, they wouldn’t judge me when I went back for seconds!)

John: Don’t forget to invite “The Three Amigos,” without whom we may have never met, connected, and fell in love. (Yes, our two dogs are Lucky Day and Dusty Bottoms. El Guapo now lives at his grandparents’ house.)

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What’s in your fridge right now?

John: The standards in our fridge always include a huge hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano, eggs, milk, greens, tortillas, beer, and baby food. Oh, and delicious butter. Tons of pickles. Soy sauce. And honestly, a lot of various condiments.  We’ve got INNA Jam Strawberry Seascape and Robert Lambert Wild Plum Jam right now. We’ve also got La Quercia bacon and some rabbit rilletes, as well as Widmer’s Cellars Brick Spread. We hoard Confituras Bourbon Brown Butter Peach Preserves for a rainy day.

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It’s Wednesday night at 6:30.  What’s for dinner?

John: Cheese! We actually don’t get regular dinner on Wednesday night since we’re often leading cheese class that evening; however, we do munch on the cheese board alongside our guests.

Inspired by John’s love of fresh mozzarella, I created these easy-to-whip up cocktail bites. Suppli are traditionally made with leftover risotto, but I’d cook a pot of risotto just to have these.  They make perfect cocktail bites or a light supper alongside lightly dressed greens.


Suppli with Butternut Squash & Fresh Mozzarella

2 c cooked risotto (use your favorite recipe)

1/2-1 c diced butternut squash, steamed until very tender

6 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into 12 2″ cubes

1 c flour

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 c panko bread crumbs

oil for frying

your favorite ragu or marinara sauce

In a medium bowl, combine risotto and steamed butternut squash. Mix thoroughly until butternut is evenly distributed throughout risotto. Divide risotto into 12 small mounds. Scoop up about 2/3 of one mound and shape into a small disc. Place a cube of mozzarella on top and cover with remaining risotto from the same mound.  Shape into a ball, making sure cheese is completely enclosed. Set aside and repeat with the remaining mounds of risotto.  Heat oil in a deep frying pan or dutch oven to 350 degrees.  Roll each rice ball first in flour, then egg, then panko.  Fry until crisp and brown, turning so that they cook evenly.  Drain on a rack or on brown paper grocery sacks.  Serve with your favorite ragu or marinara and a light dusting of parmesan (these are great hot or at room temperature).

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