My name is Akira Onizawa and I am a native of Tokyo, Japan. It has been my privilege to serve this community as the Executive Chef since 2012. As you know, the Branson School is located in Ross Valley and is one the best place to access local produce and artisanal food products in Northern California. I really enjoy meeting local farmers and producers who also are trying to nourish this community through seasonal, great quality and healthy food. We cook everything from scratch on site using their beautiful products and offer them to the Branson students daily.
Although I trained for years at highly acclaimed restaurants in the U.S. like Per Se, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in New York City and Aubergine in Carmel by the Sea, my intention is not to offer gourmet food to the Branson students, but to elevate the quality of the school lunch. To achieve this goal, I found it’s really helpful to apply fine dining standards to the school kitchen operation. This is not just in respect to cooking, but also keeping our kitchen spotless and organized like fine dining establishments.
When I was in New York City, I had an opportunity to work with chef Bobo at the K-12 Calhoun School, who is one of the pioneers toward improving school lunch programs in America. Chef Bobo believes that food can absolutely be healthy as well as delicious and sustainable, and letting children experience these wonderful foods will shape their eating habits for life. Working with Chef Bobo gave me firsthand experience about creating balanced, inspired menus; harvesting fresh vegetables from our rooftop garden; working with local suppliers; working with each chef’s diverse culture to introduce authentic ethnic tastes, and pleasing the toughest food critics on Earth…kids! When I saw a 7 year-old getting excited to eat sautéed Rainbow Chard at the Calhoun School, I started to believe the school lunch could be an educational experience and raise the awareness of where our foods come from, how they are treated and understanding the simple fact that “You are what you eat”.
The modern diet in the U.S. has been causing serious obesity and chronic diseases among young kids and teens. Michelle Obama’s “Let’s move” campaign has brought national awareness to this trend; however, most public school lunch programs are still serving highly processed, empty calorie-packed food to our precious kids. We need to change this game.
Here at the Branson School, we have been striving to establish an exemplary lunch program, which I do hope to inspire other communities and to join this movement. We are very lucky to receive such strong support from our community to keep continuing this meaningful journey.
The Branson kitchen team is fully committed and excited to have been offering this lunch program to the Branson community. We also practice a sustainable kitchen operation, which means our electricity is provided by solar power, recycling materials as much as possible and leftover foods are either composted or donated to those less fortunate. We make every endeavor to make this lunch program be eco-friendly.
We always welcome anyone who would like to visit and see our kitchen. I am looking forward to meeting you at the Branson kitchen!
1. Create food to improve the physical and mental well being of the people in the Branson community.
2. Educate people in the Branson community about the important role food plays to improve or maintain overall health.
3. Be an inspiring role model of a sustainable, authentic and local-based school lunch program in America.
4. Be the first school kitchen in the U.S. to demonstrate “finesse” standards and contribute to elevating the quality of school lunch programs.
"finesse" (noun): Extreme delicacy in action, performance, skill and taste.