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Paso Robles Culinary Arts Academy

Under the direction of the Culinary Arts Academy Director Rod Blackner, Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Food Service is much more than your average school food service. In addition to serving 1380 breakfasts and 2510 lunches per day the Culinary Arts Academy is an exemplary diversified food service operation. The Culinary Arts Academy (CAA) is a modern food service facility that was constructed through a school district loan and the vision of Rod. The CAA operates a four semester culinary training program for high school students who run a full service restaurant and catering operation on site. In the evenings the CAA offers a culinary certificate program to the local community college. In addition to school food service, the CAA contracts with Meals on Wheels, other school districts, and at times contracts with local restaurants.

Paso Robles Joint Unified School District is located in Central California and has 6500 students in six elementary, two middle, one high school, and two alternative high schools. 43% of the district is eligible for free or reduced price meals.

Menu Planning and Salad Bars
Rod meets with students to help him create his monthly menu. This allows for student buy-in and helps kids better understand what is being served. They follow a traditional food-based menu planning model and utilize “offer vs. serve”.

All of the traditional school sites have salad bars. Pre-packaged salads are offered daily to teachers and to middle/high schools. Rod notes that salad bars increase the amount of produce that is offered to his students. A la carte fruits and vegetables are offered at all school sites.

Sourcing and Buying
The CAA purchases fresh fruits and vegetables from produce distributors, broad-liners, local farms, grower’s collaboratives, and they use commodities when available. At some sites school garden produce is incorporated in school food to enhance the salad bar or other menu items.

Rod estimates that about 35% of his produce comes from Central California growers in a 150 mile radius. He maintains relationships with a farmer’s market manager to connect with and purchase directly from farmers. The location of Paso Robles and Rod’s communication with local growers allows him to source just about all his produce needs seasonally, when the price is right.

Production and Serving
The bulk (75%) of fresh fruit and vegetable production is done at the CAA kitchen and distributed to school sites. School sites serve food in a variety of ways including: tray service from a serving line, salad bars with or without entrée’s, food wagon or carts, and window service. Salad bar preparation is done at each school site and one school site prepares all their meals on site.

Fresh vegetables are primarily served cut and raw. Fresh fruits are all served raw and 75% of those are served cut.

The CAA has an exceptional food service facility that serves as a production kitchen, teaching kitchen, catering/event venue, and restaurant. In addition to professional food service staff the CAA also employs an instructional chef, assistant chef, and restaurant manager who train the high school/college students and run the catering and restaurant business. It is truly an impressive facility and program.

Rod’s desire to create healthy food that kids will actually eat paired with a great site and staff has allowed their food service to create some healthy school food options:

Excess foods are donated to food banks, composted, or disposed of in the garbage or disposal.

Promotion and Marketing

Rod meets with students in the classroom regarding menu creation and to help explain why certain items are on the menu. At times local farmers are invited to share tastings in the class. Rod mentions that promoting local produce doesn’t necessarily increase consumption. He says sometimes it does and sometimes it does not. Communication to parents regarding school food is done via school menus, newsletters, and back to school nights.

Farm to School Programming

Farm to school programming at Paso Joint Unified School District is self funded, either at the school site or via the food service account. As mentioned above CAA is able to purchase from local farmers when product is available and priced right.

Farmer visits and tastings occur in the classroom and other nutrition food education occurs on a per class basis depending on the school or teacher interest. Parent groups and cooperative extension are other groups that lend support towards nutrition and garden education.

At the Bauer-Speck Elementary School Garden they have a very well developed garden and composting program that is spearheaded by a 5th grade teacher Judy Honerkamp. Through support of her school’s principal Judy has a sub on most Fridays which allows her to run the once a week garden program. She teaches grades 3-5 in the garden and the older grades collect food scraps daily and feed their composting worms. Miss Amy the kitchen manager welcomes the variety of produce that is produced in the school garden into the salad bar. Judy mentions the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom as a great resource that helped her get her program to where it is today.


Paso Robles Joint Unified School District school food strives to provide healthy options that kids will eat. Local produce, healthy menu items, salad bars in all schools and incredible kitchen facilities lend themselves to create an exemplary school food service.