RICHMOND, Va. -- Some students in Richmond Public Schools are being served restaurant style fresh food dishes at lunch thanks to a trained culinary professional.
Chef John Thompson is dedicated to cooking fresh. His most important ingredient is passion.
“I always knew I wanted to cook. It was something I was drawn too,” he said.
That attraction helped him land career opportunities in Michelin Star, fine dining establishments.
But the food he is preparing in his new kitchen is for his new customers at Boushall Middle School.
Chef John says he can’t think of anything better than serving the students and staff, and the students say they can taste the difference.
"The salad is good... the salad isn’t usually good," said Samiyah Yellardy.
Rakeem Thomas says he wouldn’t normally eat a salad at school, but he has no problem clearing his plate with Chef John in the kitchen.
“This salad is different,” he said.
The district’s nutrition services director says many of the students will benefit from the change in the kitchen.
"For some of our students this may be the only formalized meal that they have. They may be a latchkey student. They go home and they must pull together what they are going to eat. Parents are at work doing the best that they can," she said.
Susan is the reason Chef John is in Richmond. She contacted Brigade the organization that sent him.
"I think it’s going to change the face of school lunch in Richmond," she said.
Chef John left the traditional restaurant scene in 2018. He joined Brigade, a team of talented chefs on a mission to improve school lunches. They teach cafeteria staff how to efficiently run kitchens and prepare tasty whole foods.
It's an admirable career shift for Chef John and it will likely change lives.
"It’s so important… we are exposing students to new ingredients in the hopes that they will be willing to try these outside of school," he said.
The man who is passionate about food is now dedicated to making sure students in Richmond get healthy enjoyable lunches.
"I say it’s much more rewarding to have a student comeback and say that was awesome then it is for any accolade you could get at a restaurant," he said.
So far this year, Chef John has taught at Boushall Middle and Armstrong High School. He is expected to work in four other RPS kitchens in the next two years.
Brigade chefs also work for school districts in Connecticut and New York.