The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Meeting Tony Geraci

May 18th, 2010 · 2 Comments · Posted in school food

Tony Geraci, food services director for Baltimore schools

Tony Geraci, food services director for Baltimore schools

I’m in Detroit to judge a national student cooking contest–Cooking Up Change–and sitting on the panel with me is Tony Geraci, the famed locavore food services director for schools in Baltimore.

After I wrote a series of articles about the industrially-processed convenience foods being served in my daughter’s elementary school here in the District of Columbia I heard that Tony had been reluctant to talk to me because he thought I was putting too much pressure on Whitney Bateson, the nutritionist for Chartwells, the giant food service company contracted to provide meals for D.C. public schools.

In school food services, a kind of circular firing squad exists where everybody blames everybody else for the horrible quality of the food kids eat, but nobody is really to blame because they’re all “dedicated” and “working hard.” In fact, the only players who really make out in the school food business are big processors like Tyson and Cargill, and giant corporations like Chartwells, Sodexo, Aramark. Everyone else lives pretty much in a perpetual state of misery, trying to figure out how they can possibly serve good food on the few scheckels the federal government provides in its subsidized meal programs.

(The average school food service program is under water to the tune of 35 cents per meal, according to the School Nutrition Association–and that’s while serving the cheapest possible re-heated chicken tenders and tater tots. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is proposing to give the food program a 6-cent raise. Does anyone see a problem here?)

During a long break in the judging, I had a chance to introduce myself to Tony Geraci and give him a little ribbing for being such a reluctant source in my school food coverage. To which he replied by saying that he tries to be protective of his food service cohorts who seem to be under such constant fire.

From there, we had a long and wide-ranging conversation about the trials and tribulations of getting “real” food into school cafeterias, including sourcing local produce, finding processors who will cook pork for Tony using his own dry rub recipe, and fighting counter-productive school contracting systems.

He also described a group of parents in predominantly African-American Baltimore who called him a racist for removing blueberry milk with 36 grams of sugar in a one-cup serving from the schools menu. (He says flavored milk is still served in Baltimore schools, but eventually should become an occasional “treat,” not everyday fare.)

A chef originally from New Orleans with family roots in Sicily, Tony brings an oversized personality to the conversation and says he has no fear of using his huge reputation to win battles in his fight for better school food in Baltimore. “I carry a copy of my resignation letter in my pocket at all times,” he says. “I know I can get a job anywhere.”

He wears a chef’s jacket with the New Orleans  fleur-de-lis–the symbol of his home town–over his heart. He’s spending more time in The Big Easy these days, consulting on food in schools there.

Turns out we share a passion for pozole, the famous pork and hominy stew. It seems Tony is more familiar with the version made in New Mexico. He described in some detail his fondness for roasted tomatillos and chili peppers. I, on the other hand, lean more toward the rustic pozole originating in the Mexican state of Guerrero, especially the green pozole made with roasted tomatillos and poblano chilies, and toasted pumpkin seeds.

“You ought to come up to Baltimore sometime and we can cook together,” Tony offered.

I swear I will, Tony, and I will be bringing a big pot of my green pozole. You better have a big pile of corn tortillas waiting.

Leave a Comment

Please note: Your comment may have to wait for approval to be published to ensure that we don't accidentally publish "spam". We thank you for understanding.


  • Diane

    We make both versions of pozole and even tried making our own hominy once. We usually eat it with flour tortillas, especially the New Mexico version. And we grew tomatillos (in southern New England) last year which were much healthier than our tomatoes. They like heat so they would probably do very well in DC.

  • Robet Babcock

    Having worked with Tony here in Keene NH while he was estasblishing the First Course Food Service Program for underprivilaged and handicapped people, I can only concur with your thoughts of Tony. He is very dedicated to his ideas and children. His easy going and can do attitude has motivated many people (including myself) to strive to do the impossible when others keep putting up roadblocks. He is and always will be a mentor and friend.