Aaron Smith, Director of Culinary Services, Seattle Public Schools
When Yun Kwon nominated Aaron Smith to be this month’s Trayblazer, she quickly summed up Aaron's impact on their students. “Aaron is changing the perception and image of school food by making it culturally diverse, healthy and fun. I have never heard or seen the things we are doing here in Seattle ever before.” After chatting with Aaron, we couldn’t agree more.
Aaron has a long history of working in foodservice that’s taken him from Illinois to Tennessee to Washington state. He has even studied at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago. All of these experiences add strength to his current role with Seattle Public Schools.
A Powerful Partner
Seattle has long been known as a home for powerful businesses, and during the pandemic that reputation played an important role in their public schools’ meal programs. Aaron was able to put the power of Amazon to work for the district delivering 3,000–4,000 meals… each day! They focused on reaching students with the greatest needs, who lived in areas where access to food was scarce and to those with disabilities.
The kids got the same rush of excitement as adults opening an Amazon package. Aaron says, “It was like Christmas every day because they got to open the box and see a fresh meal. Plus, we included recipe cards to try to make it fun and engaging for students and their parents.”
Aaron and his team's hard work was a resounding success. On average, they provided 30,000–40,000 meals per day. But it was really all about personal connections. He recalls, “I received a letter from a student who said I was his hero because we were able to give them food during those hard times.”
Students Love Local
Aaron's improvised pandemic-inspired meal-delivery program had benefits that extended well beyond the students’ homes. Aaron wanted to support as many local businesses as possible since they were experiencing their own hardships. He was able to source different dishes and ingredients from the Seattle area to help drive business their way.
Under Aaron’s leadership, this farm-to-table approach that’s long been associated with quality restaurants was extended to nearly all of the schools in the district. He calls it, “farm-to-school,” and it’s been received very well by students. A dish that stands out to him is their smoked salmon chowder bread bowl they were able to source with 100% local ingredients. “That was the coolest and most fun we ever had creating a dish.”
In addition to those local meals, Aaron also mentioned how much the students love the classics such as Cheesy Pull-Aparts, Cinnamon Toast Crunch™, Yoplait® yogurts, Pillsbury™ Frozen Mini Waffles and other General Mills choices.
His relationship with technology goes beyond their partnership with Amazon. He’s spearheaded efforts to bring more of their content into the digital realm where more and more students and parents go for information. Their “Taste of SPS” YouTube series highlights dishes like their Shiitake Mushroom Tofu Stir Fry and interesting stories like their piece on Sugar Hubbard Squash. He even helped launch the website 206 Culinary Services to showcase recipes, healthy eating guidelines and more.
All these efforts lead up to Aaron’s overall approach to his work. When asked about lessons or advice, he says it’s about more than just feeding kids, “It’s about educating them and even reaching their families at home as well.” We’d say he’s doing an outstanding job and the Seattle School District is fortunate to have him as a leader. Aaron, thanks for all you do. We hope you and your students continue to innovate, create and thrive.
Follow along on their journey: