Reminisce about the days of monkey bars, math tables, and cafeterias as these local foodies recall their own lunch box memories. (Photo courtesy of Flickr)

As the days start to get shorter, the air a little cooler, and kids get ready to go back to school, parents are faced with the task of packing lunch. The great tradition of school lunch is a rite of passage that every student goes through. Be it a lunch box decorated with Iron Man or a brown paper bag, lunch time can summon some of the best and worst memories. Here’s what local chefs and food industry folks packed or bought for lunch when they were still roaming the hallways.

Brendan McGill

Chef-owner of Hitchcock, Bruciato, and more

Lunchbox: Brown paper bag
Home state: Alaska

Memorable Lunches
Leftovers or sandwiches made with crunchy whole grain bread and deli meat, or as McGill calls it a "hippie lunch." School lunch bought with money he made by selling candy out of his locker; McGill admits to being jealous of the kids with white bread, baloney, Miracle Whip, and Kraft cheese

 A Newfound Appreciation
“It's kind of indicative of just my childhood food memories in general were, we always had nice food and I didn't really...you don't really appreciate it as much when you're a kid cause someone else might have had a soda and Lunchables and that seemed like a good thing to you when you're a kid and you're just eating your healthy delicious food. Now I've grown up and everything in my life revolves around food and it makes a lot of sense why. Good thing they put all that funny stuff in my school lunch.” 

Tom Douglas

Chef-owner of Dahlia Bakery, Serious Pie, Etta's, and more

Lunch box: Brown paper bag
Home state: Delaware

Memorable Lunches
Meatloaf sandwiches with homemade dessert from grandma and an apple that would "inevitably be thrown at someone or something." School lunch bought with own money when he got a job; Douglas loved eating in the cafeteria which is why he thinks he's always liked restaurants.

Lunch Beyond the Cafeteria
"I had my newspaper route in the mornings and afternoons. In the mornings on Saturday and Sundays I'd go out and do my newspapers and then I was supposed to go to church afterwards. Instead I'd go to this little restaurant in downtown Newark, Delaware called the Post House. It had 13 seats at the counter and the cook was also your waiter so when you ordered the egg sandwich with cheese and Taylor ham roll they wrote it down on a little pad and then they turned around and made it for you. And so whether it was my scrapple sandwich or my sausage sandwich, whatever it was, I loved sitting there."

Ethan Stowell

Chef-owner of Cortina, Super Bueno, Tavolàta, and more

Lunch box: Six Million Dollar Man lunch box, then a brown paper bag
Hometown: Seattle

Memorable Lunches
Pickle and cream cheese sandwich on russian rye on really bad days when there was nothing left in the refrigerator. On those days Stowell said he opted to go without lunch. Typically he had a sandwich (never on white bread much to his chagrin), a piece of fruit, and juice. Tuna salad sandwiches were the least desirable.

Tuna Fish Irony
"I remember a lot of tuna salad sandwiches in grade school. Which are impossible to trade, I'll tell you right now. And you know what the funny thing is though? My son's favorite sandwich is a tuna salad sandwich. He's six. The other one is four, every other day is peanut butter and jelly. That's it." 

William Leaman

Chef-owner of Bakery Nouveau

Lunch box: None
Home state: Arkansas

Memorable Lunches
Leaman got school lunch just like all the other kids at his school in rural Arkansas. His favorite days were Fridays because that meant pizza. Most of the other days they got mystery meat, a veggie like soy beans or cream of spinach. 

Candy Currency
"The one thing I remember sneaking in all the time was Reese's peanut butter cups. That's the one thing I always had on me. For if I needed to borrow, bribe, or trade 'cause I was a horrible student and I hate school so whatever I could do to get through the day."

Mutsuko Soma

Chef-owner of Kamonegi

Lunch box: Bento box
Home country: Japan

Memorable Lunches
Bento box with rice and typically some veggies and a protein, her favorite was grilled salmon on rice. Soma's favorite lunch to buy out was yakisoba pan, a popular street food that consists of a hot dog bun with yakisoba and mayo or potato salad on top.

The Art of the Bento
“In Japan everyone brings a bento box, a square box you put your lunch in usually prepared by your mom. When I was a kid, charaben became so popular. A Japanese mom never gives you a whole apple to school, they cut for you into a rabbit or cat, super cute. However my mom is bad at cooking so she'd just shove everything into the bento. So I had a bento but it didn't look delicious or cute.”

Zoi Antonitsas

Chef at forthcoming Little Fish

Lunch box: Brown paper bag
Hometown: Seattle

Memorable Lunches
Big mortadella sandwiches to fuel her through sports practices after school, sometimes her dad would get the mortadella from DeLaurenti. When Antonitsas was younger her dad would pack her portable soups.

Taking Lunch Seriously from Day One
“I remember my dad packing me like chicken noodle soups, vegetable soups in these little cute Thermoses and I just remember taking my lunch when it was lunchtime and climbing to the top of this little play structure where basically only one kid could fit at a time. And I would sit there at the top of this little play structure and eat my soup by myself. I don't know if that's a sign of the future to come.”

Gina Batali

Co-owner of Salumi

Lunch box: Red, plaid, oval cube with a matching Thermos, but changed each year
Hometown: Federal Way

Memorable Lunches
Classic American lunch consisting of a turkey and cheese or ham and cheese sandwich, chips, fruit, and dessert. When the Batali family moved to Spain the kids traded in sliced white bread for baguette and whatever they found in the grocery store.

Great Expectations
"When Natalie [Batali's youngest daughter] was at Wilkes, Mrs. Brown was her kindergarten teacher and she was so excited to have Natalie in class cause she knew we had a restaurant. The first day she said 'I'm so disappointed in Natalie's lunches.' She thought she was going to have salami and cheese and all this stuff, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and Natalie would show up with a bagel and cream cheese 'cause that's what she wanted. She wanted a freaking bagel and cream cheese! I'll never forget Mrs. Brown being so disappointed in Natalie's lunches. I'll carry that shame forever." 

Armo and Marilyn Batali

Founders of Salumi; parents to Gina, Mario, and Dana Batali

Lunch box: Brown paper bag
Hometown: Both from Yakima

Memorable Lunches
Both remember sandwiches on Snyder's white bread—for Armo it was a salami or liverwurst sandwich, for Marilyn it was a PB&J or a baloney sandwich. Armo recalls having to eat spinach every day or else they were "castigated" while Marilyn remembers the occasional Twinkie or Ding Dong.

Almuerzo in Spain
Armo: What'd [the kids] bring?
Marilyn: Bocadillo were a big thing; french bread with meat like salami...
Armo: Did they bring anything to drink? Wine?
Marilyn: Well no not to school...
Armo: They coulda...

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