Bravo! Bon Appetit Management Company
Defining the Food Culture of Silicon Valley, from Farm to Fork
By Kerri Stenson
Photos by Doretta Bonner
Silicon Valley is getting back to its roots—in food, that is. And Fedele Bauccio, CEO and co-founder of Bon Appétit Management Company, has firmly planted the seed.
Bauccio and his co-founder, the late Ernie Collins, brainstormed the idea of building a restaurant company in a contract environment back in 1987. The impetus was to create a niche of providing great-quality food for the employees and students who were eating lunch (otherwise known as mystery meat) in cafeterias that until then served food in an assembly line, straight from a box or can.
“We wanted to create a brand with an emotional attachment,” Bauccio explained, and with that in mind, they envisioned an innovative concept: on-site food service management with real chefs and real food.
They were at the beginning of a new food revolution. Bon Appétit chefs, hired away from top Bay Area restaurants, were seeking the highest-quality produce, which led them to local farms and purveyors, and Silicon Valley companies were seeking to enhance their sustainability and employee productivity. Bon Appétit and their corporate and institutional clients discovered a perfect match of aligned values, and food was the common denominator.
“It was a culinary act, not a political one,” Bauccio recalled, that inspired the local-sustainable movement because it was simply about the value of farm-fresh food. By all means, it tastes better, is better for the environment, is better for the community, it gives chefs an opportunity to be creative with their craft and has a strong impact on public health in general. These guiding principles have led Bauccio to a long list of “firsts.”
While Bon Appétit had been first in the institutional cooking industry to use whole, fresh ingredients and sourcing locally for years, by 1999 Bauccio thought it was time to “tie a ribbon around” what they were already doing and started the “Farm to Fork” program, which was a national commitment to sourcing at least 20% locally in every community in which they operated.
In 2002, Bon Appétit turned to sustainable seafood and growth-hormone-free milk, and then addressed the antibiotics issue and cage-free eggs in the years that followed. By 2005, Bon Appétit launched its “Eat Local Challenge,” which has become an annual tribute where the chefs of all 500 Bon Appétit locations across the nation inspire a menu made with 100% locally sourced ingredients. The 2012 Eat Local Challenge was dedicated to fish, and as part of that event, Bon Appétit chefs across the country collectively purchased more than 25,000 pounds of local sustainable seafood that meets the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program guidelines.
The “Low Carbon Diet” was their next initiative, proving that the mission had moved beyond just the sourcing of farm-fresh food and into a more comprehensive focus on reducing the effect of food service on climate change. Bauccio did not stop there.
Working with college campuses, Bauccio was moved to make a difference in a new way as a group of students studying social justice raised their hands during a lecture and asked him if he was aware of what was going on with tomato farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida.
This begged a critical question: “Where does our food really come from and at what cost?” Bauccio wanted to find out. Needing to acquire more first-hand knowledge about this issue, in 2009, Bauccio and Vice President of Strategy Maisie Greenawalt enlisted the help of a Spanish-speaking chef as they ventured out into the tomato fields. Discouraged by what they discovered, this led to the next corporate mission for Bon Appétit as they began to publicly boycott all tomatoes from farms that would not agree to some basic tenets in a Code of Conduct supporting minimum wages and safe working conditions for tomato pickers. It was an uphill battle at first; some Bon Appétit cafés went without “slicers” for their burgers. As the company gained traction, they gave all of their business to the first two farms to sign the Code, and thereafter signatures from both large industrial tomato growers and major corporate buyers such as national restaurant and grocery chains, continued to pile in.
This was not Bauccio’s first time to get out into the field. In 2006, he joined the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production touring factory farms to see how the animals were being raised and treated. This led to a two-year study, which resulted in a comprehensive farm animal welfare report with industry and policy maker recommendations. From antibiotics to gestation crates and issues with waste, the discoveries made were not just about animal welfare, but also public health and the environment. This, of course, inspired more “firsts” for Bon Appétit.
Last year, Bon Appétit officially committed to using 100% crate-free pork and 100% cage-free eggs (including liquid or pre-cracked eggs) by 2015, and also aiming that by that year at least 25% of its meat and eggs will come from producers who carry the top animal-welfare certifications (which go far beyond merely prohibiting gestation crates and battery cages).
Toward that last goal, in September 2012 it switched its entire supply of ground beef to Humane Certified. What do chefs do if there isn’t enough beef available? Bauccio responded with conviction, “We don’t serve it that week.”
Sitting at their flagship restaurant, Oracle’s Café 300, Bauccio’s enthusiasm was not only clear in his expressions and piercing blue, smiling eyes, but materialized with all that was going on around us. Every one of my senses had piqued. Hinting for a tour of the kitchen, Bauccio jumped out of his seat to guide me around, introducing the chefs and proudly pointing out the selection of creative and seasonal dishes that displayed a rainbow of colors and an explosion of great smells. The artistic array of fresh baked goods matched those in a world-class bakery and the pastry chef explained how they adhere to a strict “no waste” policy, while he pointed out a batch of delectable muffins made with the extra pastry dough.
There was no denying our hunger that was triggered by this culinary adventure so we headed back to our seat, greeted by soy lattes and home-made hibiscus tea and fresh squeezed juice. As platters of exquisitely crafted dishes were placed in front of us, we were joined by Oracle’s Executive Chef Robbie Lewis, who took a moment to share his experience as a chef for Bon Appétit. Previously executive chef at the famed Jardiniere restaurant in San Francisco, Lewis called the move “a perfect fit, philosophically.”
“I always believed in fresh ingredients and saw this as an opportunity to have an impact on people’s lives and change the way people eat,” he said. He also noted the pay is great and you can’t beat the hours. Unlike the restaurant business, Bon Appétit corporate chefs have weekends off.
What inspires the level of creativity seen throughout every Bon Appétit restaurant? “Changing seasons,” Lewis replied. “There are no menu cycles and every week we start with a blank slate.” It’s a collaboration between the chefs and the farmers based on what’s available.
You can easily learn all about what is in season locally from merely looking at the menu, which also lists every farm from which the food was sourced. The tasting sampler we enjoyed included a salad made with Manas Ranch late-season Fairtime peaches, shaved organic Jerusalem sunchokes, buttered almonds, County Line Harvest baby escarole and English Stilton champagne vinaigrette; deconstructed ratatouille with fresh raw Happy Boy Farm heirloom tomatoes; pickled beets; Butternut squash and quinoa; flatbread with roasted Cabrillo Farms artichokes, black olives, Hobbs smoked bacon and Manchego cheese; mixed grilled seasonal vegetables with organic roasted eggplant and fennel; slow-braised grass-fed organic goat with grilled bread, Iacopi Farms fresh shell beans, Dinosaur kale, Muscat grapes and Pecorino. It was a feast for the senses. Fresh, healthy and delicious.
What Bon Appétit has done for Silicon Valley is becoming a global phenomenon. In 2002 the global food services company Compass Group purchased Bon Appétit and since then has been looking to them to help establish high quality and sustainable food standards for the 4 billion meals they serve internationally in a year.
Bauccio and Collins started with a great idea and they never waivered from their intention. Bon Appétit continues to nourish the food industry from the ground up. It has had a profound impact on the rights of farmers, sustainability and the environment, local communities everywhere, animal welfare and consumers who are healthier and more efficient at work as a result of fresh, local food made from scratch.
Thanks to the 151 million meals it served nationwide last year—45 million in Silicon Valley alone, where it has 156 registered Farm to Fork vendors (out of more than 1,050 total)—and its profound impact on food services globally, Bon Appétit is truly changing the world all along the food chain.
A mother, community activist and entrepreneur, Edible Silicon Valley publisher Kerri Stenson is passionate about good food and good health.