DENISE LANGOWSKI, Central Cooking Kitchen Manager, Alameda Unified School District, Alameda, CA
Origin: San Francisco, CA
Denise has spent most of her life in Alameda, where she works, but her family background is a diverse as California itself. “One grandfather was part Yugoslavian and part Polish, the other Mexican and Irish. My father, who was from Michigan, met my mother at a USO dance when he was stationed here in Alameda. My mom was born and raised in San Francisco, but her mother, my grandmother –she’s 92 now- grew up in Mexico. Her father, my great grandfather, built the city of Tecoman, in Colima, about 45 minutes from Manzanilla. My mother spends half the year there.”
We couldn’t help but wonder what kind of food dominated these divergent backgrounds. “My mom cooked what my dad wanted, like meat and potatoes and white gravy.” Denise wrinkled her nose, saying she never liked that white gravy. “My grandmother cooked what her husband wanted too, but that was more Mediterranean. Things like Osso Bucco – it was a cheap cut of meat – and lots of beans.
“One of the best foods I remember was my aunt, my dad’s sister back in Michigan, would make us Potato Peanut Butter Candy and send it to us.” Denise went on to describe it as mashed potato dough spread out on a baking sheet, then peanut butter spread on top of that. Then, it was rolled up like a jelly roll, rolled in powdered sugar and cut into pieces. As she talked, she looked like she was reliving every bite. “I loved that candy. It was the best thing ever! I’ve got to get that recipe from her.”
In her school kitchen, there is nothing as exotic as Potato Peanut Butter Candy, but there is plenty of good food. Denise proudly showed us an array of freshly-made egg salad sandwiches. When we asked if the eggs were cooked here in the kitchen, she looked shocked. “Of course they are. We cook them fresh every day.” She showed us freshly-made chef’s salads with lots of crisp greens, chicken salad with oranges, and fish tacos, plump with lettuce and served with a homemade sauce from one of her staff’s home recipes. Denise talked about how they added their own touch to sauces, with extra herbs and spices for dishes like spaghetti or raviolis. “The kids, even the elementary, are having a great response to the food. It’s really exciting.”
Denise cooks at home for her family every night. What does she cook? If you guessed a combination of Mexican, Italian, Polish, and meat and potatoes, you’d be right. “I learned to cook from my mother and my grandmother, and then, my husband is Polish, too.” She has also enjoyed the professional development cooking lessons we have been providing the staff. The participating staff, including Denise, are pictured here in Denise’s kitchen.
Denise was chosen by Alameda’s Director of Food and Nutrition Services, Rafaelita “RC” Curva (immediate right in photo), to be part of a small leadership team that is implementing Alameda and RC’s vision for introducing scratch cooking. The team is pictured left in Denise’s kitchen. One of the recipes they have already introduced in honor of Filipino American Heritage Month is the popular Filipino dish Chicken Adobo. Click it for the recipe which feeds 96 and is in Nutri Kids format. The team from left to right is James Asia, Julie Yosofsay, Denise Langowski and “RC” Curva.
Favorite Tool: My oven