Episcopal School takes a family-style approach to lunch

| June 27, 2019 | 0 Comments
CHEF Monterrosa works with kitchen staff to prepare a family-style meal for lunch.

Allow me to set the scene: More than a hundred students assembled around 16 tables — each topped with platters of steak and potatoes — singing together with a piano accompanist a popular melody from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood before sitting down to share a family-style meal.

One might assume such a civilized assembly of students was a special event, but for the Episcopal School of Los Angeles (ESLA), it’s just how they do lunch each day.

The motivation behind the approach is that there’s no substitute for breaking bread with your neighbor. So each day, around noon, the entire middle and upper schools gather together for a family-style meal. It’s a time for students, faculty and staff to share both good food and good conversation.

THERE’S NO substitute for breaking bread with your neighbor.

“From how we understand it, this is a totally unique way to serve school lunch,” said Will Litton, ESLA director of admissions.

To witness the communal gathering first hand, I met Litton for lunch during ESLA’s second-to-last day of school before summer break. When I arrived, the students — who were excited to be out of their typical uniforms for a “free dress” day — were gathering in the lunchroom. The piano was playing in the background, and an intoxicating smell was coming from the kitchen.

“Today is a special day as students are celebrating the middle school head Jay Johnson’s last day,” said Litton. “So we’re having steak and potatoes, Johnson’s favorite.”

School chef

The man behind the program is chef Hugo Monterrosa. Not your typical cafeteria-style cook, Monterrosa sharpened his culinary skills at a London-based restaurant before spending time at East Hollywood’s beloved Sqirl.

Looking at a couple of Monterrosa’s recent lunch menus, it’s quickly obvious that these kids eat well: One menu reads steamed mahi-mahi and hanger steak served with hominy grits and squash blossom salad. A second menu reads lamb shoulder served with Moroccan cous cous and chickpea salad. There is always a vegetarian option, too.

“It’s a chance to teach the kids about good eating habits,” said Monterrosa. “We want to show them that they don’t have to eat mass-produced products.”

And the learning doesn’t stop there. Monterrosa says that they use food to explore other cultures and traditions from around the world.

Builds confidence

“The lunch program provides another venue to take what the kids are learning in class and carries that into conversation with their peers every single day,” said Litton, who explained that there is a rotating faculty member at every table. “And that means that there is someone invested in each student at every table. It also means that students are interacting with different groups each day, growing confidence, and building relationships that might not have happened otherwise.”

Students are assigned seats for lunch three days a week, and are allowed free seating for two days. The kitchen also provides breakfast and snacks to hungry students.

The ESLA is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation of its permanent campus on Lillian Way, just off the corner of Vine and Santa Monica. As such, the school is temporarily conducting class — and its unique lunch program — at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. According to Litton, ESLA hopes to complete the project later this fall.

“We will soon have a new and improved kitchen where we can continue to build on the lunch program,” said chef Monterrosa. “It will be good to be back home.”

Visit es-la.com for more information.

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