Friday, July 04, 2014

Transitioning to a new chapter in my career, an Independant School Reflection...

Just about three years ago, as few of you may know, I moved back to New Hampshire from a long visit to North Carolina. The people, places and things I saw and had the privilege to take part in were life-changing. I met some amazing people and ate some even more amazing food. I saw a lot of great things culinarily and learned how I want to be as a chef. The passion for food that I didn't know I had blossomed and grew into this enormous entity that I would never have imagined possible. It's amazing how ones core beliefs change as they progress in life. When I first moved down there, I was lost and heading in a bad direction. Making food was more of a means to an end than a calling in life. With a little faith and courage and a lot of help, I made it to a place I am proud to be. If you had told me all those years ago that I'd be where I am today, I would have told you that you were crazy!
A little more than two and a half years ago, I started on an amazing journey with the food service company I am currently employed with today. Having been in between jobs for a few months at the time, I was so grateful to have been given the chance by my then hiring manager to take on the challenges of a small private day-high school in the North Shore of Massachusetts. The client was not pleased with the way things were going back then and had even considered looking elsewhere for someone to fill their dining services needs. There were a couple employee-related issues that needed to be resolved and the place was filthy from top to bottom. HACCP was an after-thought and, to be honest, I wondered how anyone did not contract a foodborne illness. To make matters worse, the staff and student moral was in the trenches. The people who made the food weren't excited to make it and the diners weren't excited to eat it.
After a lot of changes and even more hard work and determination, we left that place better than it was when I arrived. I am proud of where we took this place in the relatively short time I was there. Of course, you can't accomplish much without a team and my team helped make it possible to fill everyone's high expectations. The people who create the food do so now in a passionate and excited manner and, as a result, the diners give rave reviews. We introduced all sorts of awesome stuff; from Matzo ball soup made with real chicken stock to whole grains and mind-blowing interactive dessert bars to mile-high burger days. Staying relevant and non-complacent as a chef is the key to happy diners. Listen to the complaints and do something about them. Of course, we all know some people are impossible to please and that's a sad existence indeed, but we just have to smother them with kindness and hope they will wake up one day without the need to feel slighted.
Check out some of the photos below; sort of like a review of these past 2 years and 8 months.
Matzo balls floating in rich house-made chicken stock. Smelled like heaven.
Buffalo chicken wings and brown rice (of course, roasted vegetables were offered, just not pictured).

Scratch-made signature desserts (this one was called the "Brookie" brownie and cookie baked together and topped with out own butter cream icing).

Mile-high burger days! Local buns, local beef and lots of laughs.

Little logo flags on top of chocolate cupcakes brought a smile to even the most grouchy of grouches!

"Breakfast for lunch" complete with over a dozen toppers!

Gingerbread house for Christmas. One week to make and one hour to break!

The faculty and staff ate like kings during special events. Pictured here is a local artisanal cheese and anti-pasta display complete with house-made breads and spreads.

We composted all of our non-meat food scraps.

Once in a while, we'd fire up the grill for some amazing grilled meats!

I'm a condiment guy, that's half the fun of eating! Sriracha was one of those things I just had to bring in (I'm a huge fan) and now the students are huge fans!

Signage is great for communication and education. People just want to know what they are eating!

Local, seasonal food is important to me and yummy too! This handy chalk box was nice to show off the local apple offerings.

Nothing like local!

Local carrot/ radish salad was a hit, who knew?

Thanking the parents with great food. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have this amazing job!

When introducing infused water, I had no idea it would be so popular! We started off with one and moved up to three options within just a few weeks. Pictured here are melon water, basil infused sweet tea and orange water.

5' sub day! Filled with Italian meats and cheeses as well as a vegetarian option for those who care to indulge.

A salad like this was just not happening a few short months ago. This sort of thing became a regular occurrence as the students became aware of the importance of eating healthy. Of course, having over 30 items to choose from every day helped too!

With the good there comes the bad! Local frozen yogurt over scratch-made cakes with plenty of whipped cream on top will keep anyone smiling. You know those football players have big appetites!

We stuffed our napkin holders with food educational signs to keep everyone on top of what was going on. Neat and tidy is the way I like it!

"International Day" and other such specialty days were a huge hit and kept everyone happy and excited about their dining hall.
Easter chocolate fountain anyone? Complete with "Bunny on a death wish".
(after, no more bunny!)

Pie eating contest for the last day of school, surprised no one puked! (that girl on the left almost did, I was worried!)
Wokka wokka wokka :) Dressing up for Halloween/ costume day kept many up for the challenge.

Fresh-made mozzarella cheese with local tomatoes and basil, caprese goodness! We went though 40 pounds of cheese and 30 pounds of tomatoes that day. Not too bad for 350 eaters!

So, I told you all that to tell you this; I started off an even BIGGER adventure and list of challenges at a college about 30 minutes north of this school. I accepted the Executive Chef position and I started this past Monday. I have no idea what I got myself into but have already met some amazing people and the management team are all crazy foodies like me so I'm sure I'll fit in just fine. I always said I love a challenge, didn't I!? I accept the challenge and will keep you all posted as the days and months progress. I'll either learn more and become a better chef or die trying! Thank you to everyone that has supported me over these past few months and those who will support me in my new venture.