What’s Cooking?

Cafeteria faculty discusses recent changes and plans for the future

by Sammy Bonasso, ’20

The cafeteria provides students ample opportunities to incorporate its products into their schoolday diets. It opens early each morning with a hot breakfast bar, serves pizza and sandwiches at lunch and distributes freshly-baked cookies after school, filling the hallway by the cafeteria with pleasant aromas.

These services do not occur spontaneously, of course, as the cafeteria workers constantly work behind the scenes to satisfy students. However, due to this concealed nature, most students do not understand how their food is produced or know of the cafeteria’s future projects.

Daily Routines

Cafeteria workers typically arrive at 6:30 a.m. to prepare breakfast for the West Cafeteria, although this can vary depending on its catering assignments for the day. Cooks must fry and bake food, prepare sandwiches, manage the breakfast and snack bars and handle the cash registers; they rotate certain positions every three weeks.

Diane Norman is a cafeteria cook who began working at the high school this school year. “[When you think of school lunch], a lot of times you’re thinking of pre-processed foods, but here all of our ingredients are fresh,” Norman said. Rather than simply thawing and heating foods, much of the workers’ jobs involve actually rinsing and chopping them, and the cafeteria recently has looked in to buying locally.

Last Year’s Changes

The cafeteria sent a Schoology survey in the middle of the 2016-2017 school year asking the student body’s opinions on the cafeteria and new preferences moving forward. After hundreds of responses, the cafeteria enacted many changes to its menu and layout, emphasizing student choice.

For example, the East Cafeteria improved its theme bar. It now varies cuisine each day, from Mediterranean foods to mac and cheese. It eventually added vegetarian options such as tofu and falafel for certain days.

Nutritional Services Director Irene Hunt has coordinated cafeteria changes but witnesses student reactions when helping cooks during busy times. “I think [we have seen students enjoying] having [more] choice. Our continued goal is how we can continue to bring new things and continue to offer that type of service for them,” Hunt said.

A Day for New Ideas

To compensate for more students eating lunch in the cafeteria on UA Idea Day, the cafeteria tried many new concepts. Students could buy sushi from the Asian restuarant Fusian, and the cafeteria introduced UA-themed rice crispy treats, packaged cookies and additional types of veggie burgers.

Recently, the cafeteria has placed a television with a menu at the East Cafeteria entrance and even invited Fusian to return every Thursday. According to Hunt, the cafeteria also may send a survey similar to last year’s to students in order to determine the cafeteria’s direction for the spring and next school year.

The Human Side

Although the cafeteria has a major goal simply to maintain business, a more informal relationship exists between the cafeteria workers and students and teachers.

Cooks Diane Norman and Monique Kindrix both enjoy their jobs and even the food they cook for students, Bosco Sticks and mozzarella sticks being their personal favorites. Furthermore, they each value the surprising politeness of the student body, which they recognize as absent in many schools.

“You get used to seeing people … or just striking up a conversation, or laughing,” Kindrix said. “I feel like it’s a good community, not just with the kids, [but] with the teachers [as well]. We all have each other’s back, in a way.”