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On the Radar: Sixtyone Restaurant in London

On the Radar: Sixtyone Restaurant in London


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Flip through London dining guides and lists for fine-dining picks and you’ll discover the “usuals”- names such as Barrafina, Dinner, La Gavroche, The Wolseley, and Berner’s Tavern all but dominate in the capital. In Marble Arch, relative newcomer Sixtyone has kept a much quieter profile amongst its peers, though it has already achieved top honors with its three AA Rosettes awarded less than a year since its 2014 debut. Though a bit behind the rest of the pack in popularity, the restaurant is certainly on par with quality fine dining in the capital.

Located on Montcalm Hotel’s ground floor, Sixtyone is an under-the-radar venue that shouldn’t be – chef/patron Arnaud Stephens has had world-class training under Gordon Ramsey and Jason Atherton, and the restaurant belongs to the legendary Searcy’s portfolio, exuding the same standard of class and quality as its other posh venues. Sixtyone features a sleekly decorated, mid-sized dining room adorned in bronze and creams with an adjoining Champagne bar, perfect for business clients, high-end dates, and other splurge-worthy occasions.

The fare at Sixtyone is contemporary, thoughtful, and proudly British. The reverse of each menu features a list of their artisan suppliers and their distances from the capital; Sixtyone’s beef and game birds, for instance, come precisely 282 miles away from the northerly Lake District Farmers.

The menu is terse – one seafood, two meat, and two vegetarian dishes are what diners can choose from for starters and for mains – but edited well for maximum experience. Starters include cauliflower soup with slow cooked duck egg and truffle; pig on toast with pear and pecan; and the visually stunning octopus carpaccio with red pepper, pine nuts, and sesame. Presentation of the entrées are as exceptional as they taste, such as a roast chicken breast and leg with parsnip and curry, braised beef shoulder onion emulsion and sea vegetables, and Jerusalem artichoke with girolle mushrooms and hazelnut.

Sixtyone conjures the old adage that popularity doesn’t necessarily signify excellence, as it deserves excellent marks despite its current low-key profile – all the better for you to book a table before the secret’s out.


The Lost Kitchen: A Glimpse Inside Maine’s Most Wildly In-Demand Restaurant

This is the country’s most talked-about restaurant, but you’ll need to get a little lost—and mail a love letter—to find it.

The Lost Kitchen is an unlikely success story. First, there’s the matter of where it is: in the rural town of Freedom, Maine, 17 miles from the coast, surrounded by farmland and backcountry roads, near towns like Unity and Liberty. You can count the buildings in Freedom on one hand: There’s a general store, a gas station, a post office, and the Lost Kitchen itself, in an 1834 mill building, perched over a stream.

Then there’s the matter of the restaurant’s story. It’s helmed by a self-taught chef, Erin French, a Freedom native who spent her teenage years working at the local diner. She started the Lost Kitchen as a series of under-the-radar dinners in her small apartment, then saved to open a real restaurant, one floor below. The Lost Kitchen took off, until one day French arrived to find padlocks on the doors, her grandmother’s china and every pot and pan locked inside: the Lost Kitchen, lost in a contentious divorce. French rebuilt, renovating an Airstream and serving pop-up dinners across Maine before she got word that the falling-down mill in Freedom had been saved and was in need of a tenant. She moved in and fitted everything herself, sourcing vintage appliances from old farmhouses, building the dining tables by hand, and scouring antiques stores for tableware.

In its current iteration, the Lost Kitchen has eight tables and one seating a night, and French and her team of women servers and cooks do it all: one server grows the flowers, another raises the chickens. French cooks the multi-course meals on the spot, in the open kitchen, with no menu in mind, drawing only from what’s available that day, recipes learned from her mother and grandmother, and the simple flavors of Maine. The ink on the menus is barely dry when guests arrive: They’re printed just before the seating each night—until then, what will be served is in flux.

It’s an unlikely success story, but a wild success it is: In the four years it’s been open, French has written a cookbook,The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine. It used to be that on April 1 the phone lines would open for the summer’s reservations, but after the phone lines crashed, French turned to a more old-fashioned system last year: Prospective diners sent in a handwritten postcard, postmarked between the dates of April 1 and April 10, to be considered for a coveted seat at the table. French received almost 20,000 postcards: They fill buckets in the small office beside the dining room.

Starting today, The Lost Kitchen is accepting postcards for the 2019 season see all of the details here. Unless you’re one of the lucky few, though, you may never get inside the Lost Kitchen. Consider this a glimpse.

Photography by Greta Rybus for Remodelista.

Above: The Mill at Freedom Falls, where the Lost Kitchen is located, is perched above a wide creek. The 1834 building was formerly a gristmill, then a turning mill, but had been abandoned for decades and was in danger of falling into the creek before local conservationists and Cold Mountain Builders worked to restore it, shoring up the granite foundation and replacing the timbers.

Above: To get to the Lost Kitchen, diners cross a narrow footbridge above the falls. Above: Inside, remnants of the old mill remain: pulley systems and an old millstone, inlaid in the floor. French fitted the dining room simply, and all herself, with hand-built tables and painted spindle-back chairs. She also had a vent and air duct installed to facilitate the working kitchen. Above: French built the tables with help from a local carpenter, using salvaged wood and metal hairpin legs. The chairs are from Hayes Unfinished Furniture in Brewer, Maine, painted in Benjamin Moore’s Iron Mountain. Above: French sources the tableware from antiques stores around Maine downstairs, in the pantry, there are stacks of blue-and-white china and jadeite bowls. French’s mother, who works at the Lost Kitchen, sewed the restaurant’s original cloth napkins. Above: Guests are greeted by a handmade cooling cloth, a respite from the heat. (Stay tuned for how to make them in a future post.) Above: One of the servers, Ashley, provides the flowers each day from her own farm. Above: A mix of ceramics in the open kitchen. French installed the counters and sourced the Lacanche range (out of frame) at a discount.

Above: On one wall, a vintage hutch holds the restaurant’s glassware. Above: With stacks of glassware and mix-and-match china, there’s the sense of dining in French’s own home, not a formal restaurant. Above: Even the fridge—a 1950’s Frigidaire that French found on Uncle Henry’s (Maine’s version of Craigslist)—is out in the open. Above: A vintage cart holds mix-and-match teacups that French has collected over the years. Above: Lobsters cool in the farmhouse sink, which French found at a house set to be demolished in Massachusetts. Above: The open kitchen is equal parts utility and charm. Above: Three of nearly 20,000 postcards—from every state and 21 countries—that came into the tiny Freedom, Maine, post office this April. Some postcards have paintings of the old mill, or hand-drawn maps of how to find The Lost Kitchen. French pulls out the cards sent in by the night’s diners and hands them back after the meal—small souvenirs of the experience. Above: Maine fog on the mill windows. Above: French takes a moment between cooking to arrange the flowers for the evening. At dusk, French herself goes around to each table to light candles.

Landed a spot at the Lost Kitchen, and need a place to stay the night? Might we suggest the guest bedrooms at High Ridge Farm, a 20-minute drive.


Fangko Coffee – Tasty Blue Nasi Lemak Ayam Berempah, At Under-The-Radar Cafe Near Clarke Quay

Changed upon this non-descript café at Hongkong Street which is right opposite Clarke Quay Central.

This is the Fangko+ Coffee concept, while it has an original outlet at Oxley Tower, Robinson Road.

It is the type you may just walk-past-and-miss, but it is quaint and simple on the inside, with friendly service.

The café serves up modern style Indonesian food, in the likes of Nasi Lemak Ayam Berempah, Indomie Goreng, Fried Rice Kampung and Smashed Chimken.

There are also some modern café food items on its menu, and its pricing seems quite inexpensive considering this near-Clarke Quay area, with many items priced below $10.

There are the Spicy Fried Chicken Burger ($8), Spicy Smash Chimken Burger ($9), Roasted Chimken Sandwich Avocado ($11), and Classic French Toast ($3.50).


I got the Fangkok+ exclusive, which is the Nasi Lemak Ayam Berempah ($10) with fresh chicken leg, coconut rice, peanuts, ikan billis, fried egg, sambal, and kerupuk.

See the beautiful blue pea flower coloured rice? I was initially sceptical, ”Is this one of those instagrammable café food that taste so-so?”

Okay. I had quite a number of decent plates of Nasi Lemak in Singapore so was getting harder to be impressed.

I must say there was an element of surprise when I first smelled the aroma of the soft, fluffy blue and white rice.

This was that coconutty-fragrance that was fantastically alluring.

The rice was light yet tasty, wasn’t too greasy at all, and didn’t steal the thunder from any of the other ingredients.

Credit has to be given to the other components on the plate as well, especially the chilli which packed a punch.

Loved the paper-thin crispy skin on the spiced fried chicken. If I needed to nit-pick, I wished it would come warmer.

You can pair your food up with some of their fanciful drinks such as Fangko Coffee ($3.80, $4.80) added with Gula Melaka, Avocado Coffee ($6.80, $8.80), Peppermint Mocha ($5.50, $6.50), Dark Chocolate ($5, $6), and Strawberry Sparkling ($5.50, $6.50).

A cafe where you cannot judge from its outer appearance.

While Fangko Coffee’s Nasi Lemak does not have the fanfare of The Coconut Club and Lemak Boys, perhaps the underdog can have some support as well.

Fangko+ Coffee
20 Hongkong Street, #01-03, Singapore 059663
Opening Hours: 8:30am – 6pm, 9am – 8pm (Sat), 11am – 5pm (Sun)

FangKo Coffee
138 Robinson Rd, #02-04 Oxley Tower, Singapore 068906
Opening Hours: 9am – 3:30pm (Mon – Fri), Closed Sat – Sun

* Follow @DanielFoodDiary on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube for more food news, food videos and travel highlights. DFD paid for food reviewed unless otherwise stated.


20 Black Mixologists You Need on Your Radar

Follow them on Instagram for cocktail inspiration, recipes, and tips.

If you’re hankering for something different without going to the bar, we suggest you take some cues from the professionals. Many of the world’s best bartenders and mixologists are sharing tips, recipes, and cocktail inspiration on Instagram, giving at-home drinkers a chance to peek behind the bar and sharpen their skills.

Every industry is waking up to the need for diversity, and the world of alcohol is no exception. Luckily, there are some incredible resources that showcase and celebrate the contributions of Black people to beer, wine, and cocktails. Check out Omolola Olateju’s Black Girls Drink or Julia Coney’s Black Wine Professionals for more on the superstars of the spirits world, and give your Insta feed new life by following these amazing Black mixologists, bartenders, and drink experts.

Some of these cocktail superstars work at one specific bar, while others host their own events, freelance at several venues, or work as brand ambassadors. All of these 20 mixologists are bringing necessary, long overdue innovation and improvement to the industry.

Tiffanie Barriere

Barriere is respected in the industry for her innovative cocktail menus and bar consultancy. Her creative direction led popular Atlanta airport bar One Flew South to be named �st Airport Bar in the World” at Tales of the Cocktail in 2014. She is also a member of the James Beard Advisory Board and the Atlanta chapter of Les Dames d𠆞scoffier. (On Sunday, July 19, Barriere was in a car accident from which she is currently recovering at home. There is a GoFundMe fundraiser to help her as she recovers, which you can support here.)

Anthony Bates

Bates is the head mixologist at The Polo Bar, the classic Ralph Lauren restaurant in NYC. His Instagram feed features a range of colorful cocktails, like the Casanova, made with Pisco, muddled strawberries, lemon juice, and pineapple sage-infused Manuka honey.


(San Joaquin Valley, CA)
Our farm is committed to cultivating long-term relationships with our customers. Our diverse crop list allows us to offer fresh, seasonal produce to our wholesale, retail, food service and restaurant partners year-round.

(Petaluma, CA)
County Line Harvest grows specialty lettuces, specialty salad greens, baby spinach, chicory mixes, radishes, turnip mixes, carrots, cippolini onions, baby leeks, fennel, mixed baby summer squash, basils, parsley and sage. All crops are organic


Perilla, London N16

Chosen by Selin Kiazim, chef-director, Oklava

There’s some amazing cooking going on in this warm, buzzy dining room. Ben Marks is a very talented chef and plates up the most beautiful dishes. The influences are more on the European side, but it’s quite an eclectic mix. Last time I went I had a canape-sized mouthful of yesterday’s bread soaked in a moules mariniere sauce – the best bit right there – and battered hake fried in beef fat with chip-shop curry sauce. It has a neighbourhood vibe, but is also a great place for an occasion: big windows that wrap around beautiful plants everywhere. There’s a small bar area too, which is where I ate, looking through to Ben plating up.

The Canton Arms, London SW8
Chosen by Margot Henderson, chef and co-owner, Rochelle Canteen

This is my local, and has everything I enjoy about a pub: it’s friendly, warm and not too flashy. It’s familiar, and perfect on a rainy day. On top of that, it has great drinks and superb food. The dining room is cosy, with the most delicious menu – I always love the way it reads. Quite classic, but modern – it might have provencal beef shin. The blackboard menu has about four sharing dishes on it and they go much further than it says, which makes it great value. It’s gentle food for families and friends, served in big Le Creuset dishes, with a generous spirit.

The Inn at Whitewell, near Clitheroe, Lancs
Chosen by Lisa Goodwin-Allen, executive chef, Northcote

The Inn at Whitewell, near Clitheroe, Lancs Photograph: PR

We go to this pub in the Ribble Valley a lot, a beautiful part of the world. The thing I like about it is that I don’t have to think too hard. The food is consistent, humble but always delicious. It’s pub classics, very British food: fish pies, hotpots, amazing meat or fish platters, good braising dishes. The menu doesn’t change that often but the special boards change all the time. There are roaring log fires. It’s a relaxed environment, so my young son enjoys going there too, and everybody who comes through is lovely – walkers, people who have been on a shoot, and dogs are welcome. The big draw is that you can have a walk round the Whitewell, then go and have something good to eat and a nice glass of wine.

Chesters by the River, Ambleside, Cumbria
Chosen by Simon Rogan, chef-owner, L’Enclume

On a day off, I like to go for lunch to this riverside cafe. I sit outside, relax and eat really tasty vegan and vegetarian food. The food has all sorts of influences – a bit of Moroccan, through to Chinese, biryanis, flame-grilled pizzas – but the main stars are the vegetables. It’s not doing it justice calling it a cafe, but that’s what it is. You can take away, and there’s a shop associated with it. The staff are friendly, the atmosphere is nice and the quality is great. My staff were always telling me how amazing it was, and it took me a while to get there. Now I can see why they love it.

This article was amended on 24 January 2020 because an earlier version gave the incorrectly location in Manchester for The Walled Gardens. It is at Whalley Range, not Didsbury.


10 Restaurant Trends for 2021/2022: Top Forecasts & What Lies Beyond?

The restaurant industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with numerous stores closing down temporarily or folding up entirely. This has led establishments to ramp up their efforts online and apply dining measures that adhere to safety protocols. In this way, they can curb the spread of the disease while receiving returns in the process.

These are challenging times for restaurants, but, as many have reopened, establishment owners have tapped their creativity to make the situation more manageable. These creative pursuits could set the standard in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, budding food entrepreneurs saw this unfortunate event as an ideal time to serve their creations to their immediate communities. And this has worked for them given that food is a basic need.

From the continuing surge of food deliveries to the emphasis on sanitation, we&rsquove compiled ten restaurant trends that experts think will impact the restaurant industry in 2021.

Restaurant Trends Table of Contents

The sharing of food had defined us as a human race. It forms the bedrock of family, religion, and relationships everywhere. This is why restaurants will always have that critical, timeless role in society. As such, with the pandemic still uncontained, restaurants have turned to other resources to increase the likelihood of their survival. After all, more than 110,000 dining establishments have become casualties of the pandemic in the United States alone (Seattle Times, 2020).

The world continues to become more urbanized and digitized, and the food and beverage industry has leveraged this to the hilt. Nowadays, people prefer to have food delivered to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19, which paved the way for several trends for established and budding restaurateurs alike.

A bit of good news came when many cities around the world have permitted the reopening of industries, including cafes and dining places. However, the manner in which foodservice is conducted has been altered to promote the safety of diners. In fact, the CDC has released a safety guideline for food establishments to follow (CDC, 2020).

Despite the reopenings, many restaurants struggled, with 90% of full-service establishments reporting sales declines and a revenue drop of 36% on average (Seattle Times, 2020). Not everyone is keen on dining out unless a stronger assurance of their safety is implemented. But this does not mean that the food and beverage industry is doomed.

From these dilemmas springs new trends that could very well tide over dining establishments through the pandemic.

People value sanitation and health more

Sanitation is of utmost importance, given the spread of COVID-19. The National Restaurant Association has released safety guidelines for restaurant reopenings, and sanitation is one of the report&rsquos focal points (National Restaurant Association, 2020). The workstations of kitchen staff, restaurant seats and tables, restrooms, and other restaurant fixtures should be thoroughly sanitized.

Furthermore, the drive for sanitation extends to the personal hygiene of kitchen staff. Besides handwashing regularly, members of the kitchen crew are advised to use hand sanitizers with alcohol content not lower than 60% (National Restaurant Association, 2020). The sanitizers should also be readily available to all guests, on top of social distancing measures, to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19.

These safety policies actually go in line with the sentiments of diners. In a survey by OpenTable, it was discovered that 72% of customers believe that strict cleaning policies in restaurants are extremely important (OpenTable, 2020). Furthermore, diners are more predisposed to health and sanitation, with 93% putting a high premium on handwashing and 58% valuing the use of hand sanitizers (OpenTable, 2020).

With COVID-19 sticking around for a while, this drive for sanitation and safety will be prevalent in restaurants in the next few years.

Sanitation trends highlights

  • Sanitation and safety have become more important to consumers.
  • Adherence to safety practices would promote the safety of guests and the kitchen staff.
  • Proper sanitation could influence a larger influx of diners.

The fast-casual restaurants will continue to thrive

Current restaurant food trends indicate that the fast-casual chains are set to thrive even with the ongoing pandemic. By 2027, this segment is expected to rake in $931.7 billion in total sales (Business Wire, 2020).

However, this is not without changes. For starters, fast-casual restaurants are now expected to serve better-tasting food in a limited-service style. Moreover, as 32% of customers order for carryout, 9% order for pickup, and 10% order via delivery services, it is safe to assume that these restaurants are slowly moving toward making it more convenient for consumers to take their favorite meals home with them.

Since 1999, fast-casuals like Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill had grown by 550% (Technomic, 2019). Moreover, experts expect the segment to continue growing. And it will grow even further should it fully leverage online delivery services to counteract the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Why are fast-casual restaurants popular today?

Of 2018&rsquos Top 500 chains in the US, 80% are using a fast-casual format (Restaurant Business, 2019).

Three things&mdashtaste, value, and convenience&mdashare pushing diners to regularly eat at fast-casual restos. Dining at fast-casuals is cheaper (37%), more convenient (33%), and offers better value (31%).

Across the US, 85% of diners tend to make dinner decisions within the same day (Acosta, 2018). This is why convenient meal services across foodservice segments and consumer groups had grown immensely.


Spring Arrow

Set in the grandly neo-classical Somerset House, Spring offers up a dreamy dining room, all pastel hues, Italian marble, and blossoming wall art—light-filled in the daytime, softly luminous at night. A dozen changing starters and mains showcase the best of what’s in season—often grown on Fern Verrow's 16-acre biodynamic farm. Dishes often hew Italian, but Skye Gyngell is a culinary magpie, so labneh, persimmon and fermented chilis also find a place on her menus. It’s a deliciously grown-up place to come for dinner: expensive, quietly elegant, and oblivious to trends.


Top Food Trends 2020- What You Must Know

Want to know what top food trends everyone will be talking about in 2020? The best chefs, culinary experts and food personalities united for two days at the inaugural National Geographic Traveller Food Festival in London to determine this at the end of July 2019.

As a press member, I attended cooking demonstrations, interviewed tourism board officials, met with chefs and cooking school personnel and listened to panel discussions- all about food during these two days. And it is clear there are some very big, new trends on the horizon.

Top Food Trends 2020- Health

The biggest theme for top food trends is… be healthy. This is showing its strength in many different forms. In the YouTube video I created at the food festival, I break down how we will see the healthy food trend infiltrating different areas of our lives. It also includes information about what Le Cordon Bleu, London’s top cooking school, plans to introduce that will prepare upcoming chefs for the healthier demands that we will see.

Top Food Trends 2020- Culinary Trends Panel Discussion

National Geographic Traveller Food Executive Editor Glen Mutel hosted the Culinary Trends discussion which featured four panel members. You can see them in the Healthy Food Trends video above.

Carolyn Boyd is a travel writer and editor specialising in French food and drink. She is author of Lonely Planet’s travel and recipe book France From the Source and writes regularly for National Geographic Traveller, National Geographic Traveller Food, The Times, The Guardian, The i and The Independent. Throughout the discussion she was the barometer for all food trends related to France.

Neil Coletta served as a professor of food studies at Boston University, as well as as the university’s assistant director of programs in food & wine, organising a year-round series of gastronomic lectures, demonstrations, classes and events with some of the top names in the food world. He is now the brand & product manager of food tours at Intrepid Group.

Neil Davey has written regularly for The Guardian, Hello! and National Geographic Traveller (UK). As a broadcaster, Neil has worked for the likes of the BBC and Jazz FM.

Chef Reginald Ioos joined Le Cordon Bleu’s team of teaching cuisine chefs in 2013. He began his career at the five-star Sheraton Skyline London Heathrow Hotel. After four years, Chef Reginald moved to Brussels where he worked at the two Michelin-starred Sea Grill Restaurant and then onto the five-star Sheraton Hotel at Brussels Airport. In 2005 he returned to France where he later worked as a Private Chef to a former member of the French government.

Top Food Trends 2020- Key Ideas

Aside from the 5 key trends culinary trends related to health that the panel discussed and you can learn about in the video, there are other topics that will make headlines.

Top Food Trends 2020- The Next Big Meat

While people have been eating goat for thousands of years, you will start to see a rise on its place on menus. Pairing with the healthy trend, goat is lean and very low in fat. Panel members indicated they felt the taste was very close to lamb.

In the spirit of eating healthy, I tried the Lotus Root Curry from Yaalu Yaalu stand, which has several locations in London. The goat curry looked very good. However, I just wasn’t ready to take the plunge.

How about you, Sunny friends? Have you eaten goat either to be healthy or just because you thought it sounded good? Am I the only one who is a little hesitant?

Top Food Trends 2020- Ditching Fine Dining

Something slightly surprising that they indicted during the panel discussion is the move away from fine dining. This is attributed to the advent of take away services like Deliveroo.

Panel members felt that the millennial generation’s casual approach to urgent requests has created a cultural shift toward a food trend of delivery items being the norm for dinner. This means they have less attention for fancier food and prefer to avoid the fuss and eat good, fast.

Top Food Trends 2020- The New Favourite

While all these predicted food trends fold in to a healthier package, there is one prediction that doesn’t fit in this eco-lifestyle box- Filopino cuisine.

One panel member indicated that one of the last treasures Anthony Bourdain left behind was the declaration that Filipino food is the ‘food of the world’. This was based on his experience with sisig, a dish from the Philippines. It is a local street food dish made from chopped parts of a pig.

Bourdain told CNN Philippines that the sizzling, crispy pork dish is “perfectly positioned to win the hearts and minds of the world as a whole.

“I think it’s the most likely to convince people abroad who have had no exposure to Filipino food to maybe look further and investigate further beyond sisig,” he said.

“I think that’s the one that’s gonna hook them.”

Top Food Trends 2020- Final Thoughts

What do you think, Sunny friends? Have you tried sisig or any other Filipino dishes? Do you think you will be following any of these top food trends for 2020? Or maybe you already are living healthy and the food trends mentioned in the video are part of your everyday lifestyle?

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Former Noma chef turns his talents to school food. But will students go for it?


Daniel Giusti in the cafeteria at New London High School, where the former fine-dining chef runs the food-service program. (Stan Godlewski/For The Washington Post)

NEW LONDON, Conn. — The students waiting for tacos are growing impatient. One furrows her brow in theatrical annoyance. Another nervously taps a black tray against his pants leg, as if counting down the seconds in the lightning-fast, 22-minute lunch period at New London High School.

Missing lunch can be a serious matter in New London, a once-prosperous shipping and whaling town in southeastern Connecticut, where the economy in the 21st century has run aground. So many kids qualify for free meals here that the entire student body, around 950 strong, doesn’t pay a cent for breakfast, lunch or after-school meals. Some students can’t afford to stop at Burger King after school if they miss lunch.

But the stakes are higher on this hot, damp Thursday afternoon in September, the first day of class. As principal William Tommy Thompson announced at each lunch period, this year marks the launch of a grand experiment at New London Public Schools: The all-magnet district has contracted with a startup company, Brigaid, to rethink the student dining experience, down to the dishware.

“We have plates this year, not trays, not Styrofoam,” says Thompson to the first wave of students.

The kids break into spontaneous applause, as if they’re starved for respect as much as for lunch.

Brigaid is not your typical school food­-service giant, like Chartwells or SodexoMagic. The company was founded by Daniel Giusti, former chef de cuisine at Noma, the Copenhagen innovator frequently cited as the best restaurant in the world.

Giusti, a former Washingtonian, has sworn off fine dining and moved into the school lunch program. His concept may sound familiar — hiring chefs to improve school food — but his company takes a more hands-on approach than previous efforts involving professional cooks. Every cafeteria in New London will be run by a full-time chef who will create menus, improve systems, train staff members and address the problems, large and small, that arise daily. In theory, each chef will become invested in a school, treating its students as customers who need to be satisfied, not just anonymous mouths that need to be fed.

“The whole point of this is that we’re taking care of these kids,” Giusti says. “We can never lose sight of that. It can’t be about anything else.”


Ryan Kennedy was selected to helm the kitchen at New London High School. (Stan Godlewski/For The Washington Post)

When Giusti put out a call for chefs to join him in New London, he received 275 applications for six open positions. To start, he hired only two, because of the district’s tight budget and because of his own high standards. Giusti wants chefs who can develop delicious recipes that adhere to the government’s rigid nutritional standards and who consider feeding schoolchildren to be just as important as feeding the one-percenters at Noma. Too many applicants, it seemed to Giusti, wanted the school job so they could enjoy a normal work life, without the punishing weekend and evening shifts of a restaurant.

“They didn’t have the conviction to do this,” he says.

Giusti found everything he wanted in April Kindt and Ryan Kennedy, who followed radically different paths to reach New London. Kindt graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. (she was enrolled at the same time as Giusti, though they never met then) and began climbing the career ladder via hotel and independent restaurants in Arizona and Rhode Island. Her last job was as executive sous-chef at 22 Bowen’s, a high-end steakhouse and wine bar in Newport, R.I.

Not formally trained as a chef, Kennedy has had a more modest career: He cooked at a fish house owned by former NBA star Vin Baker and, for eight years, has prepared soups and sandwiches at a market in nearby Old Lyme. It’s not a résumé that immediately calls attention to itself, but Giusti liked Kennedy’s accompanying letter.

“When he came and cooked in the final interview process, he showed that he can cook really well,” Giusti says. “He also showed that he understands already, at a very early stage, how these [nutrition] guidelines work.”


Daniel Giusti, center, at New London High School with cafeteria workers Everett Guest, left, and Everett Scraders . (Stan Godlewski/For The Washington Post)

Kennedy now leads the kitchen at New London High School. Kindt runs the cafeteria at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School. The district expects to place chefs in the remaining four schools later this year and now has the budget to hire them, says superintendent Manuel J. Rivera.

Rivera is the riverboat gambler who has taken a chance on Brigaid as part of his larger plan to overhaul a district that, until recently, was under state supervision because of its financial and management problems. Rivera’s stepdaughter first told him about Giusti’s interest in school food service she was working at Noma when the chef de cuisine was formulating his exit strategy. Soon, Giusti and Rivera were trading emails, then phone calls. Initially, Rivera worried that Giusti might be naive about the difficulties he faced.

“Your first reaction is, ‘What does this person really know about all the crazy nutritional guidelines and all the regs that you have to follow?’ ” says Rivera as he sits at a cafeteria table at the high school. “It was really clear to me after the first conversation that this was something really interesting.”

The superintendent became convinced that New London would be the ideal location for Giusti’s pilot program. The district is small and manageable — only six schools and about 3,300 students — and it had no contract with an existing food-service provider. Soon, others saw the value of Rivera’s gamble, including the board of education, which authorized the superintendent to enter into a three-year contract with Brigaid. There was a caveat: The school district would cover only the six chefs’ salaries (along with the usual supplies and ingredients). Rivera had to find outside revenue to cover Brigaid’s fees.

Rivera eventually found the cash via Target Stores. The discount retailer has agreed to a one-year, $100,000 deal to sponsor Brigaid’s work in New London.


The students’ food is served on dishes instead of trays or foam plates — one of Giusti’s many changes. (Stan Godlewski/For The Washington Post)

Giusti’s reward for landing the contract in New London is that he and his two chefs have to face down one of the most daunting challenges in American schools: They must prepare food for some of the pickiest eaters on the planet, while still following the government’s strict limits on sodium, fats, calories and more. They must offer fruit, vegetables, proteins, milk and whole grains at every meal, and they must prepare everything at a cost of less than $1.35 per student.

Giusti and team figured they would rely on recipes previously developed at other schools while they focused on more pressing issues, such as staff training, equipment upgrades, kitchen organization and improving the quality of ingredients. But once Giusti, Kindt and Kennedy started testing the existing recipes, they quickly realized they couldn’t serve that food. It just wasn’t good enough.

So they developed their own recipes. It forced the chefs to create flavor in food without relying on salt, butter or fresh herbs, which had the potential to push them over budget or over the nutritional limits.

“A lot of the flavor here is going to come from dried spices, and it’s going to come from vinegar, because we can’t afford the sodium in a lot of cases, and we can’t afford more expensive olive oils or fresh herbs on everything,” said Kennedy.

The chefs’ opening-day menu was a testament to their ingenuity and organization: They marinated, roasted and sliced-up chicken thighs. The spiced meat was then tucked into yellow corn tortillas with a homemade cabbage slaw on top. Pickled vegetables were available as a garnish, as was a jalapeño hot sauce that Kindt prepared. The chicken tacos came with a side of Spanish rice. Spanish brown rice, that is.

And that was just the entree.


Lunch choices at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School include a roasted veggie and hummus sandwich, corn chowder and a peach. (Stan Godlewski/For The Washington Post)

Kindt’s middle school team also prepared two sandwiches, including one with freshly roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, romaine and a mayonnaise flavored like stuffing. Kennedy’s high school team was responsible for two salads, each served in individual containers, including a Mediterranean bowl with greens, chickpeas, cucumbers, olives, feta and a house-made balsamic vinaigrette. Each school would then share either sandwiches or salads with the other. The schools also split soup duties — chicken soup in Kennedy’s kitchen, corn chowder in Kindt’s — and shared the results. Both offered a “pineapple popsicle,” a piece of fresh-cut fruit impaled on a stick. The chilled slice of pineapple had been brushed with lime juice and sprinkled with lime zest and cayenne pepper.

Despite all those options — and more — the high school students flocked to the taco bar. Giusti and Kennedy had tried to prepare for the rush by having nearly 100 plates ready to distribute, but those pre-made tacos disappeared fast, as 300 students flooded the cafeteria during each lunch. The line started to back up, and the staff was soon overwhelmed. Both Giusti and Kennedy jumped onto the line to assemble tacos, but even the pros couldn’t keep pace with the heavy demand.

If the students were annoyed, they didn’t express it in their initial reviews. Junior Carlos Pomales said his lunch was “way better” than last year’s fare. He gave Giusti an A. Junior Victoria Vasquez assessed the tacos as better than those at Taco Bell, a comment that was considered high praise around her table. Several students were thrilled that they could grab a cup of lemon-and lime-infused water instead of the required milk, which they would have just thrown away.


Another lunch selection at the middle school: roasted chicken with brown rice, salad and chopped apples with cinnamon. (Stan Godlewski/For The Washington Post)

There were, of course, the haters. One unidentified student called the tacos — well, a name that’s unprintable. Another student, a senior who would identify herself only as Elizabeth, refused to try any of the chefs’ dishes. She selected a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, perhaps the lone holdover from the pre-Brigaid era, when most foods were cooked from frozen or came straight from a jar.

Asked why she didn’t try food prepared by a chef from one of the world’s greatest restaurants, Elizabeth didn’t bat an eye. “Not even Gordon Ramsay could get me to eat his food,” she said.

Giusti had expected problems on the first day, and he and Kennedy were quick to address them at the high school. By day two, both chefs had figured out ways to speed up the lines. They added a third station for entrees, and they pre-sauced a whole-grain cheese ravioli, allowing the staff to produce plates at a much faster clip. The changes worked: At every lunch period, students moved through the lines swiftly and without complaint, with plenty of time to eat.

Still, Giusti was stewing at the end of his second day, obsessing over some negative student comments. He couldn’t dismiss them as the rants of a finicky teenager or a mean-spirited kid. He wants nothing less than 100 percent satisfaction, no matter how unrealistic that is.

“I just spent the past five years working at a place where everything we did was unrealistic. We chased it every day,” Giusti said about his time at Noma. “If you set out to say your goal is realistic, then you’re not really too ambitious, are you? This is a life’s work right here. It’s a project.”


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