As we followed Mr. Shawn O’Neal, the head of the Food Services department, around the cafeteria kitchen, the aroma of chocolate chip cookies and stir fried ground pork filled our senses, and the lunch workers busily cooked, carried trays, and discussed what to do. The kitchen is where all the cafeteria food is stored and made. There are 42 people working behind the scenes to make the cafeteria food and these diligent workers spend 8 hours a day in the kitchen. Each day is fast paced, with every moment dedicated to getting the best food out to the students.
Every school day, TAS students gather at the lunch line to pick out what hot lunch they want to eat that day. There is always a myriad of choices: brown rice, white rice, western entrees, Chinese entrees, vegetables, seasonal fruit, and dessert. A large amount of work is needed for buying and making the foods students consume everyday, and the TAS chefs are hard at work while all of this is happening.
In the kitchen, the stations are well organized. In the dishwasher area, all the trays and dishes are carefully washed and dried with machines. In the Chinese food area, a huge pan about the width of an arm sits on the stove waiting for stir-fry lunches to be made. In the bakery is where the pastries are made and the pizza and quesadilla area is where the dough is freshly kneaded everyday. Next to the pizza area is the fresh fruit and sandwich area where these food options are also freshly prepared everyday. In the back of the kitchen is a walk-in refrigerator and freezer. All the foods are checked before they are brought out onto the serving line and several workers are dedicated to making sure everything is made and delivered on time.
Mr. O’Neal supervises the whole Food Services department. He is responsible for ordering and cooking the food, as well as coming up with new recipes. He either tries out the recipes at home himself or has some chefs try them. “If we don’t like it, chances are that no one else will like it,” he says. Having worked at TAS for 16 years, he makes sure the food is nutritious, affordable, and delicious.
The Chinese and Western entrees, rice, salad bar ingredients, pizza, cookies, and more are made by the lunch ladies everyday. “95% of our items here are made from scratch,” says Mr. O’Neal. “Unlike a lot of places outside where you have [microwaved food]; we don’t do that.”
The cafeteria gets their ingredients from a variety of places. Each ingredient is carefully chosen. Mr. O’Neal says, “The chicken is domestic, but the beef [products] are shipped from overseas from places like Australia.”
Although a lot of work has to be done each day, Mr. O’Neal says, “Every day passes so quickly and I love what I do. It’s always lots of fun. However, my biggest complaint is there is never enough time in a day. It just goes by so quickly.”
The cafeteria food is made with the hard efforts of the cafeteria workers. Not only does it have to be nutritious, but it has to be produced at a reasonable cost and satisfy the hunger of the whole TAS community.