Mountain Style: Lunch with a Soul Purpose

For the Jackson Hole Classical Academy, lunch is full of healthy lessons.

By Mel Paradis // Photography by Ashley Wilkerson

When you think about school lunch programs, you probably don’t envision Aristotle. Instead, you picture old ladies in hairnets slopping green beans on a tray. Yet it’s Aristotle’s quote, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all,” that is the core of both the curriculum and the lunch program at the Jackson Hole Classical Academy.

The Academy, which opened in the fall of 2014, aims to develop intellectual and moral foundations within its students, while encouraging good habits and strong academic achievement. “We want to be consistent in our model,” says headmaster Polly Friess. “We want our students to desire the right things. In literature, we want them to read great books. In music, we want them to listen to great music. When they eat, we want them to desire healthy foods.”

The Academy added a kitchen to the original building design, but it remained unused for the school’s first year. Then Chas Baki—father of a student, husband of the school’s kindergarten teacher, and a graduate of the Western Culinary Institute—offered his services. Baki moved to Jackson with his family in 2014 and has worked at The Blue Lion, Couloir, and Gather.

Currently, Baki and three other parents prepare lunches at the Academy on Mondays and Wednesdays. “My goal is to [someday] serve lunch five days a week, while providing healthy meals that parents can feel good about giving their children,” he explains. Though the meals look like traditional school lunches on the outside, students are surprised to learn that healthy ingredients are often snuck into the homemade fare. Baki makes almost everything from scratch—even the mayonnaise—and adds ingredients like black beans to the brownies and sunflower seeds to the chocolate chip cookies. When the children ask, “What are these green things?” it opens the opportunity to teach them about healthy ingredients. “One of the main reasons I got into the culinary arts was to learn about our relationship to food and how it affects our overall health through mind, body, and spirit,” Baki explains.

The school’s families add even more heart and soul to the lunch program through a unique model of financial support. Approximately 90 percent of enrolled students participate in the program. And while the actual cost of each meal is five dollars, some families pay only three and others opt to pay seven. “We built a community,” says Friess. “We support each other in a nice way.”

At the Jackson Hole Classical Academy, even lunch comes with a little dose of education and a whole lot of heart. For “food is the foundation of it all,” says Baki.