Acre Gourmet: Bay’s Lunch Program Partner

The food at Bay is delicious. There is absolutely no denying it. We are extremely fortunate to have our meals prepared by Acre Gourmet, a local catering company that creates meals for our community such as sriracha-lime chicken with broccoli and coconut rice, 3 cheese & bacon mac with tomato basil soup and roasted rainbow carrots, or Marin Sun Farms pulled pork taco salad with Massa Organics brown rice… and that is just this week alone! Not to mention the daily salad bar and soup station, as well as all-day toast and tea, fresh fruit and bagels! Acre definitely spoils the Bay community but it’s not just the food that makes Acre so special. It is also the philosophy behind the company that aligns with Bay’s precepts and the level of care and dedication to the craft that make us so lucky to call them our partner.

We sat down with Head Chef Marisa diGirolamo to learn more about Acre and how our food gets to us from concept to cafeteria.

What is your role with Acre?

I am the new Head Chef for The Bay School lunch program with Acre. I design the menu, do the ordering, and prepare the meals for the community each day.

What is Acre Gourmet’s catering philosophy?

Our core philosophy is that our food must be local, fresh and organic. This is a passion of everyone in the company from the owner to the kitchen staff. Our managing partner and operations manager are heavily involved with the local food production scene and they have great relationships with local farmers in the North Bay and surrounding areas. This allows us to source beautiful produce and meat to serve to the Bay community. Plus we are always connecting with different producers and trying new products to introduce to the menu.

Another big part of our philosophy is cooking everything from scratch. Aside from the bread, which is Acre’s recipe but baked off-site by a local baker, everything that is served is made from scratch in the kitchen on campus. Our ingredients are delivered to the school daily and everything- salsas, sauces, salad dressings, soups – everything – is made from scratch so we exactly what is going into each meal.

How do you decide what is going to be on the menu?

We have a 10-week rotation, so there is a set menu every week for 10 weeks and then it repeats throughout the year. There are several recipes that have been around for a long time that have proven popular, so we keep those. Every 10-week rotation, we test 6 or 7 new meals to see how they go over. Part of my plan for next school year is to revamp the 10-week program. That will be the big task for us over the summer: to try new recipes and menu items. Everyone in the company will be very involved with the process, from me to the operating manager to the managing partner. Everyone is very involved and invested in thinking about how to serve tasty and nutritious meals to Bay students and staffulty.

How do you like working with Bay students?

I LOVE IT!! I love it and I love this community. I have worked in schools before but never a school lunch program. I love the energy of the students, that’s why I really love working here.

How have students influenced the menu? 

We are always trying to adjust the menu to suit the students (and staffulty!) tastes. We are especially aware of ever changing dietary requirements and trends. I LOVE when the kids give us feedback on things they really like or are getting tired of. We really try to incorporate all of the feedback we get to improve the menu as the year goes on. And I am always open to requests for new items so I would love to encourage the community to come visit us in the kitchen and tell us what they think.

Acre is great at accommodating menu items to dietary restrictions. Can you explain why this is so important?

Yes, it is very important to us. We have people in the company that have very specific dietary needs and food allergies. It’s something that we are very aware of and something we are all trained on extensively; we are really happy to cater to those special needs. We always, no matter what, offer gluten free, dairy free and vegan options. We always have gluten free bread at the toast station. We also support how different people choose to manage their diet and health and want to make sure that everyone has something delicious to choose from.

How does Acre educate students on food?

Part of what we really enjoy is introducing foods the students might not have had a chance to try before. We are especially proud of the local farmers and producers we are lucky enough to work with. They often have specialty heirloom items in season. The seasonal produce tastings are a great way to showcase this and give the students a chance to taste a variety of fresh, local, organic produce that is new to them. It’s interesting to hear what of these items they particularly like so we can make sure to incorporate those into the seasonal menus.

What happens with excess food we may have left over?

We work with a service called Food Runners that comes to the school every Friday to pick up any leftover food from the week, which we store in the walk-in freezer. They are a group that goes around to restaurants and food service providers to pick up food and distributes it to local food kitchens and various different charitable organizations like homeless shelters. All of the food is repurposed through their organization to eliminate food waste.

What are some of the students’ favorite lunches? 
Some of the most popular items are the baked pasta dishes. Everyone always requests them. We have a few different versions depending on the season but it is always popular. Enchilada Day is always a big hit. We have been making a lot of different salsas and homemade hot sauces on our Mexican themed days and they are going over really well! Caesar Salad is another frequent request as is pizza.

What would you want an incoming freshman to know about the food?

We would want them to know that we take a lot of pride in our food and we care a lot about them eating fresh and delicious meals! We love feedback and if they have favorites to let us know so we can make it again. We also love requests. We are always looking for new recipes to make. All students are welcome in the kitchen at any time to ask questions and introduce themselves. We love interacting with students and they are always welcome to stop by and hang out!