Two years ago, when Mission High School had some of the lowest California Standards Test scores in the state, Principal Eric Guthertz promised the students that if they raised their scores, he'd get a tattoo of the school mascot. The school's overall score went up 10 points.
Last year, the newly inked principal held another rally where he challenged the kids to raise their scores again, proposing a list of rewards they could vote on ― they could film him dancing the Macarena, or he'd throw a big carnival with a dunk tank. A third proposal won by a landslide: Guthertz would have a famous chef cook them all lunch. This time, the school's average score went up 70 points ― the steepest jump in the city.
"As the school year rolled on, I realized that I had to come through on this challenge," Guthertz told SFoodie. "Around January, Sam Mogannam from Bi-Rite called me about something else. I said, 'I need you to help me find a famous chef to cook lunch for my students.'"
Mogannam said he immediately responded to the call: "I love when I hear kids saying they want to eat good food." Within a week, the Bi-Rite owner had Guthertz meeting with Melissa Perello of Frances and Delfina's Craig Stoll, and Charles Phan of Slanted Door ― a Mission High alumnus ― quickly joined in.
Bi-Rite catering manager Michael Aldridge mapped out the football field and figured out how to set up 134 tables to seat 800 students and 100 faculty and staff. Each of the restaurants agreed to provide food for 250 people, and Bi-Rite also recruited Pica Pica to supply each table with fresh plantain chips and Anthony's Cookies and Mission Pie to bake cookies for dessert.
Tomorrow, May 5, is the big day. Starting at 12:30, the students will slowly file out in groups onto the field, where the tables will be decorated in brown and gold, the school colors (You can watch the principal giving his students last-minute advice on Mission High's "My TV" channel). Students in the high school's cooking class will help the chefs plate the dishes, and 30 volunteers from Schwab have agreed to play waiter for the day. The menu:
Frances: Lamb confit sandwich on brioche bun with asparagus-potato salad
Slanted Door: Chicken or vegetarian curry with rice noodles
Delfina: Lumachine (shell-shaped pasta) with Sunday Supper sauce
Bi-Rite: Barbecue brisket sandwich with coleslaw and potato salad
Throwing an all-school banquet is some escalation, SFoodie said to Principal Guthertz. How are you going to top that next year? "I gave them a few options," he replied. "We could throw them an old-fashioned carnival. I could eat 25 live worms and they could film it to post on YouTube. We could find a famous musician to play a concert. And the fourth option was to have a boat dance out on the water. The boat dance won, but I'm hearing grumbles that it should have been the worms. So we may re-vote it.
"Besides," he continues. "It might be easier to eat the worms."