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Legendary Locals: Top Chef Reinvents RSM's Cafeteria Food
by: Debbie L. Sklar
Cooking since the age of 15, Guazzo's food is top notch.
Cooking since the age of 15, Guazzo's food is top notch.

There’s no ordinary cafeteria food for students at St. John’s Episcopal School in RSM thanks to Chef Gene Guazzo and his wife Cheri, it’s all about healthy eating.

Since 2001, after 5 years with a local restaurant, the couple was approached to build and implement a “healthy lunch program.” Up until 7 years ago, before Guazzo’s Catering took over, meals were purchased from outside sources and redistributed “ready-to-eat” to the children. No other caterer at that time in California was licensed by the Health Department to prepare food made fresh “in house.”

The couple pioneered a program under strict guidelines to obtain a certificate rating allowing food to be prepared and monitored as if in an actual restaurant setting. Provisions were also made in their program to provide special dietary meals to children whose family or physician required them a special needs diet on a daily basis.

Currently, they are providing more than 2,800 meals per week and contracting privately catered events ranging from small dinner parties to corporate and wedding services. They have also expanded their operations to the East Coast and are marketing and selling dressings, soups, tapenades, and more via on-line, in boutiques and supermarkets.

According to Chef Gene who prepares the meals, “I became interested in cooking when I was 15 years old and I joined the Merchant Marines where I became a cook on the ship. I went to school for two summers so I could graduate early from high school. “

“We approached the school because I knew that this need was there based on the amount of obesity and diabetes growing in children. Also, even in private schools, children don't necessarily get the balanced meals they need to make it through the day,” says Cheri, who runs the administrative side of the operation.

In fact, Cheri developed the ever-evolving program based on Dr. Agastin (cardiologist) theory of what our bodies need to keep our hearts healthy and our bodies from becoming overweight.

“Children are the perfect candidate because they have not developed these bad habits and if they are starting too, it's quit easy to break them while they are young. For example, we are feeding the children in the nursery as they begin to eat solid foods. They are exposed to these flavors and textures and it becomes second nature for them to crave it. We survive best when we eat as much raw fruits and vegetables as possible. Time is the biggest killer of vitamins,” she says. 

As for what’s ahead, they are hoping to move the program to more schools and provide the service for students all over the County.

“This program is magic. There is nothing more rewarding than hearing a first grader say ‘Chef Gene, I love your food,’” the Chef says. “We need to get on board immediately for the future children. There are too many diagnosed illnesses that are linked to food. So many can be helped without medication. It simply takes changing their diet."

Chef Genes adds that the most rewarding aspect of the job is: “Having a parent call me early in the morning and ask if they can please pick up their child’s lunch even though the child is home sick because he wanted ‘Chef Gene’s homemade meatloaf, mashed potatoes gravy and a salad with Chef’s Balsamic-Ranch dressing.’ ”

Debbie L. Sklar is a 20+year journalism veteran residing in Southern California, where she is a writer, columnist and editor for many local, regional and national publications. Sklar may be reached via e-mail at

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