by Donald Wilson on February 19, 2011

Polpette di Tonno

I received the invitation late yesterday afternoon in an e-mail from one of his gracious assistants.   “Jamie is making a menu for LAUSD tomorrow at his new kitchen.  He is keeping it within their costs and guidelines.  He needs help and tips from people who know LAUSD.  It’s tomorrow between 1:00-3:30.  Like I said, last minute, I know, but do you think you can make it?”

Seriously?  ME?  Jamie Oliver wants ME to help him with a menu?  Oh My God, Yes!

If you don’t know, Jaime Oliver has started a “food revolution.”  It started with his reality TV show in West Virginia which has now come west.   He goes into a school district and helps them revamp the food services to be healthier and to rely on more organic and sustainable sources.  Unfortunately, Jamie has hit a wall with the Los Angeles School District.  More than anything, I think he just picked the wrong time to ask the district to look at this issue.  LAUSD has a lot on its plate right now with a $408,000,000 deficit, and the last thing the District needs is more pressure in a reality TV format.

It’s not that the District doesn’t try to bring healthy meals to kids, but even with a very dedicated and I would argue talented food services organization (you try feeding 600,000 picky kids and see what you come up with), it’s not hard to wonder how pepperoni pizza or chicken nuggets are helping the obesity epidemic. The District has pretty much said “no thank you” to Jaime for the time being, but they challenged him to come up with a menu for meals that can be produced for 77 cents a serving.  That’s why he needs me!

So, first things first, what will I wear?  I need to go to school before hand, so I’ll wear my gray suit, but with a striped shirt…a white shirt would be way too corporate.  I want my outfit to say, “LAUSD professional, but rebel and food revolutionary at heart.   No tie.  No way.  He’s the Naked Chef for Pete’s sake.  Shoes?  Definitely the cute Euro wingtips I picked up in Italy a few years ago.  Oh crap…  My hair.  No time for a cut, I’ll have to go with extra product.  It’ll be okay, I can tell Jaime likes product.

I was also sure Jaime had spent the morning pouring over my blog preparing for our meeting.  Would he ask me how I thought we could translate my pheasant risotto into a 77-cents meal for inner-city kids?” or  “Wow, Don, that’s an amazing idea.  I really think the addition of cardamom will really get kids to eat broccoli!”  I could already hear the cafeteria crowds chanting, “More of Mr. Wilson’s Filipino adobo please!”

Yet, as I drove towards the kitchen, all the while imagining the significant impact of my contribution, I started to get an uneasy feeling.  I tried to push it aside, but my superintendent’s voice kept interrupting my revelry.   I couldn’t make it out at first, but it sounded like he was saying, “What were you thinking taking it on yourself to represent LAUSD in a high profile reality TV show without permission?”  I also thought I heard, “How are you going to keep www.feedingandrew if you don’t have a www.job?”  Perhaps, I needed to call and ask a few questions about my meeting.

“Hi Melanie, Don Wilson here.  I’m on my way, but I have a few questions.  Is this meeting going to be filmed?”

“Yes, we film all of Jamie’s interactions with people though it might not be used.  This is just going to be a small chat with you and the other school representatives.”

“Oh good, LAUSD is sending others.”

“Well, no, you are representing your district.”  She could clearly hear my silence.  “If you are feeling at all uneasy about this, please don’t worry.  I understand.  You don’t have to come.”  Somehow this didn’t make me feel any better and, actually, I was already there.  I was calling from outside the kitchen.

Sitting outside Jamie's Kitchen

“Hey Melanie, I think I’d better use my ‘phone a friend’ option.  Do you mind? I’ll call you right back.”

I hung up and called my good friend in the media relations department.  I explained the situation and all about how Jaime really needed me, but she had the same superintendent’s voice in her head and gave me some very sound advice.  This is reality TV and it thrives on conflict: You are going to be the conflict today.  Well, you and the superintendent.

I called Melanie back and told her my sad news.  She was very gracious.

We hung up and I put my camera away, tucked my unsigned copy of Jamie’s Italy back in my briefcase, and started the car.   That’s when I saw Melanie walking out of the kitchen.  I rolled down my window and formally introduced myself.   We had a nice chat and I even offered her a lunch from our cafeteria.  We had served brown rice and chicken in a teriyaki sauce and I thought it was a good way to show how the District is really trying to come up with some healthy meals for our kids.   Unfortunately, it didn’t look all that appetizing in the organic light emanating from Melanie and the kitchen.  She told me that Jaime was 15 minutes out and asked me if I wanted to stay.

Of course I did.   I wanted to help him save the world, one cafeteria at a time.

However, I knew in my heart that this was not meant to be.  Still, I hope Jaime knows that I’m in this revolution for the long haul and I think I may be able to accomplish some surprisingly profound results.  It won’t happen as quickly as a season of reality TV and my initial audience won’t be as big.  However, time plus exponential growth has a way of making millionaires out of humble beginnings.  You see, I feed Andrew and teach him how to live organically and sustainably every day.   I also run a school with some of the brightest students in Southern California.  We are teaching them through hands-on work in a very large edible garden project about the importance of thinking about what we put into our bodies.  They are growing their food, learning to maintain it without chemicals, literally tasting the fruits of their labor, and they are learning how important sustainable food sources are to our society’s survival.  These kids are going to grow up and make a difference.  I’m confident that one of them is going to figure out how to grow food sustainably and economically on a large scale, one big enough to provide even a district as large as LAUSD with the means to feed the thousands of children who depend on us for their only meals every day.  Until then, I will continue to be a comrade in the food revolution.


Polpette di Tonno: This would make a great school lunch.

I may not have been able to meet Jaime Oliver today, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have him at the dinner table tonight.  This recipe is based on one that comes from my favorite Jaime Oliver book, Jamie’s Italy.  We have made about three quarters of the recipes from the book and they have all been huge hits here at the house.  Andrew’s favorite is Anchovies in a Tomato Sauce with Pasta (pg. 118), but mine is Polpette di Tonno, or Tuna Meatballs (pg. 203).  I love these meatballs so much and could easily eat them a couple of times each month.  Even my ardently fish hating friends will eagerly devour them.

Don’t be daunted by the process.  It’s very easy and can be easily made on a weeknight. You can make these up to the point of frying and freeze them for a really quick meal when you are pressed for time.  My version of Jaime’s recipe has evolved over the many times we have made them, but remains close enough to the original that Jamie’s presence is still felt.  Make this dish, buy his book, and start a little food revolution at your house this week.

What tuna looks when it's not in a can!

1 lb fresh or frozen tuna, cut to a 1-inch dice.

olive oil

¼  scant cup pine nuts

½ to 1 tsp ground cinnamon (Andrew likes less rather than more)

1 clove garlic

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp dried oregano

½ cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped

1 ¾ cups Japanese style Panko breadcrumbs

2 oz. freshly grated Parmesan

2 eggs

zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 to 2 T capers, preferably salt cured

Pour 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a large frying pan and place on medium high heat.  Add the tuna, pine nuts, cinnamon, and garlic and season with salt and pepper.  Fry for a couple of minutes, until the outside of the tuna starts to cook and the pine nuts start to toast.  The tuna will not be cooked completely through.  Take off the heat and put the mixture into a large bowl to cool for a few minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and using your hands work the mixture really well until it is well mixed and has come together.  Next form meatballs about the slightly smaller than a golf ball.  Dip your hands into a glass of water before you form each ball for a nice smooth surface.  It will also help the mixture not stick to your hands.  Place the meatballs on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and place in the fridge to rest for an hour.

Ready for the fridge or freezer

Pour some more oil in your frying pan and heat on medium high.  Add your meatballs to the pan and move them about until nicely browned on all sides.  You may have to use a spatula at first as they tend to stick a little at the start.  When they’re done, add them to your tomato sauce and serve over linguine or spaghetti.  They’re also good on their own or with roasted cauliflower for a starch and gluten free alternative.

Almost done

Tomato Sauce

Olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp dried oregano or 1 T fresh, chopped

1 28-oz can organic diced tomatoes

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp sugar

a splash of red wine vinegar

a small handful of chopped parsley for garnish

Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium low heat until translucent and soft.  Add the other ingredients, except vinegar, and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add a splash of vinegar and cook for a minute longer.  Taste for seasoning.  You can serve as is or blend it for a smoother sauce.


You try getting a teenager to smile when they're hungry!


michele bauer February 19, 2011 at 3:43 am

If it comes back, eat it! FANTASTIC AND FUNNY! I love you.

Shakeh February 20, 2011 at 2:26 am

Loved it! Laughed out loud and still smiling! Andrew, you are soooooooooooo cute when you smile.


Kim February 21, 2011 at 12:23 am

After reading Mimi Bonneti’s post regarding this blog entry on Food Revolution’s – School Gardens fb page I am grinning from ear to ear!! I manage a school garden program at my two daughter’s elementary school in N. Tustin. It’s a fun, simple way to teach our kids “seed to table” life lessons, but a frustrating bureaucratic endeavor at the same time. Nothing would please me more in my lifetime than to see a prolific garden at every school in this country to help feed it’s student body 🙂
Thanks for the delightful story!!
Cheers, Kim

Jennifer February 24, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Another great post! I am going to try this recipe too. Thanks Don!

Timothy Nishimoto April 9, 2011 at 5:21 pm

I’ve made the Tonno recipe several times, and it’s one of my favorites, too! Sorry you had to pass on the opportunity to work with Jamie…

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