Behind The Scenes of Food at AB
BY JULIA XIAO '24
Have you ever wondered how the delicious food at the AB cafeteria is prepared? Many students’ school days feature the high school cafeteria, yet few know about the workings of the food services staff. I interviewed Kevin Flannery, the cook and server of the main line, to learn about his role and how the cafeteria operates.
Kevin has been serving lunch to students at AB for five years. On any given day, he arrives at school at 5:30 am, turning on the dishwasher, ovens, and warmers before preparing breakfast, which is served until lunch begins. Although cereal or bread are store-bought, other food items are not pre-made; for example, the staff cook and his coworkers assemble muffins from scratch. When asked about the daily breakfast preparation, Kevin remarks, “the breakfast routine is the same every day” since there is less variety. On the other hand, Kevin works on the main line where hot lunch is served, and this varies every day. “Never gets monotonous,” describes Kevin when asked about lunch service.
The cafeteria serves around 1,100 lunches and 300-400 breakfasts per three-hour lunch rush; free lunch and breakfast offerings have increased the demand for food since the pandemic. Rather than being in a restaurant format where dishes are made after ordering, cooking at AB is similar to catering in that the cooks “make a ton of food, [hold] proper temperature…and clean up.”
From the hot meals to the grill and snack bar, there are a variety of lunch options offered at the cafeteria. In order to meet the daily demands of students and teachers, the eleven people who work in the kitchen each have divided roles. Cooking includes making açaí bowls, powerpacks, salads, and more. Others work in conjunction at the grill or cash register, sometimes alternating positions. Ultimately, the team effort allows them to successfully supply options that students love so much.
Personally, I’ve noticed an increase in the types of meals served since my first year of high school. For example, the school recently served pho for the first time. As a school with many diverse cultures, I wondered how the cafeteria has been more inclusive of different cuisines. Kevin shared the purpose behind these changes; this year, the cafeteria has a new nutrition coordinator who makes suggestions on future lunch options. In addition, the AB food staff also regularly brainstorms their own ideas, such as serving Indian, Asian, and French foods. The cafeteria staff is open to hearing from students with feedback; if you have comments, you can chat with them before school or during a slow time during lunch. However, although there is freedom choosing the meal itself, AB must follow the federal guidelines for portion size (such as eight ounces for pasta and two ounces for protein) and points of emphasis (such as sodium level).
The AB cafeteria manages food in a relatively prudent manner. Most often, leftovers of the main hot lunch of the day, such as mac and cheese or chicken pot pie, are served the next day on the grill. Not only is food waste reduced this way, but those who liked the previous day’s hot lunch but not the current can still have something appealing to their taste buds. In addition, leftover vegetables, although rare, can be put into salads or onto pizza. Finally, to minimize the leftovers, Kevin keeps an account of how many servings of hot lunch are bought everyday. For example, pasta is popular, and eighty pounds of dry pasta will be cooked to make 600 servings. Next time the pasta is in rotation, this data is used to decide how much to cook.
Seeing them pass through the line day by day, Kevin learns about people through their faces. “You get to know the way they are and their eyes,” he says. “I like the cafeteria because of the new things everyday. I like scaling foods up, and this is a very rewarding job. I appreciate people coming in for lunch everyday.” The food is usually taken for granted, so it’s good to recognize the food service’s efforts everyday. Though the routine stays consistent, every person involved works hard to provide for the students’ needs. For students, an uptick in food quality is something to be happy about, so let’s appreciate the food services for making meals better everyday and approach them with any ideas!