Sustainable Food: At the Heart of Sacred Heart Schools

Chef Michael presents his homemade organic ice cream in unusual flavors.
Chef Michael presents his homemade organic ice cream in unusual flavors.

“I didn’t think I was going to like it, but it was like, really good.” “Maple bacon ice cream rocks!” “Chef Michael is amazing!”

High school students at Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, California, are eating a new kind of school lunch – one that’s creative, adventurous and local, thanks to the school’s executive chef Michael Schley.

“Try the hissop goat’s milk ice cream!” said Chef Michael at one of his noontime cooking demonstrations. Hissop was one of eight new tastes that the chef was offering. Most high school students would turn up their noses at hissop or goat’s milk. And together? But not on Schley’s watch.

A glimpse at Schley’s background would tell you that he’d be more at home in the kitchen of a five-star restaurant than a school. He’s worked with such luminaries as Thomas Keller at The French Laundry and Michael Mina at Aqua, and at the James Beard House in New York City. While Schley may seem overqualified for cooking school lunches, he’s a leader in the fight to change the way people eat. Schley works for Epicurean Group, a pioneering sustainable food service management company based in the Bay Area.

Mary Clark Bartlett, CEO of Epicurean Group and an industry thought leader says, “Our chefs put an emphasis on fresh and local and avoid the processed industrial food that is often the mainstay in school lunch programs. Studies have shown that students who eat healthy meals are more attentive in class – and they get better grades.” Epicurean Group serves more than 30 companies and schools in the Bay Area.

Schley, like many Epicurean Group chefs, has the benefit of an onsite garden where he can access fresh produce daily. The school also keeps animals – goats, chickens, ducks and rabbits – to complete the sustainable picture. Dr. Stewart Slafter, a teacher at the school who manages the garden and the farm animals, says that sustainability is integrated throughout the school. “Chef Michael checks in daily to see what we’ve got growing and he regularly uses herbs and vegetables from the garden, and dairy and protein from the farm animals when creating his menus.” Schley is enthusiastic about food education and says that students who try new foods at his demonstrations are more likely to eat them when they see the items on the cafeteria menu.

Epicurean Group helped to design Schley’s kitchen, located in the Homer Building, the first Platinum LEED–certified academic building in the nation.

SHS students taste – and enjoy – original ice cream flavors provided at the Epicurean Group food demonstration.
SHS students taste – and enjoy – original ice cream flavors provided at the Epicurean Group food demonstration.

“Epicurean Group understands our school’s commitment to sustainability and social responsibility, and the importance we place on healthy, local and organic food,” says Richard Dioli, Sacred Heart Schools director. “Chef Michael is encouraging learning through food demonstrations – it’s a fun way to engage and educate the students.”

Schley wants to expand the food education demonstration program. “I appreciate that the school and Epicurean Group have given me a great opportunity to do what I love – teaching students about how delicious healthy food can be.”

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