MAGGIE HERNANDEZ, Cafeteria Assistant II, BEAR CREEK HIGH SCHOOL, Lodi Unified School District, Lodi, CA
Origin: Michoacán, Mexico
“Mexicans love to cook – I love to cook, my whole family, we all love to cook,” Maggie said. She has brought some of her family recipes and flavors into the Bear Creek High School kitchen, which kids say is the best in the district. “The kids come back here, saying this is the best food. They like our cooking.” The Mexican dishes have an authentic flavor that the students respond to, knowing they are getting real food that tastes good, like home-made.
“We like to cook our own beans here from scratch.” The beans are soaked overnight, Maggie tells us, then cooked the next morning. “If there’s no time to soak overnight, we bring to a boil for 15 minutes, then let them sit for an hour, then cook them. But even if we use canned, I’ll spice them up, make them taste good with onions and fresh cilantro.”
The school has a weekly Burrito Bar that includes beans, rice, meat, salsas – sometimes Maggie’s very own roasted salsas, made from scratch – as well as cheese and other fillings for the students to choose from, thus allowing them to make their own custom burrito. “Kids like the burrito bars,” Food Service Director Warren Sun adds. “Once we instituted the bars, pizza stopped being the top selling item – the burrito bars are the top now.”
Maggie’s passion for cooking is evident, and hints at “Like Water for Chocolate” secret ingredients. “My aunt is such a great cook. I want to be able to make Birria like she does. She uses beef or chicken. I keep on practicing and practicing. You really have to put yourself into the recipe. It has to have passion.” Passion, it seems, is her secret ingredient.
Birria, a classic stew, typically made with lamb or goat, is well-spiced, and served topped with onions, cilantro, and then lime for squeezing over all. Maybe one of these days we’ll find beef or chicken Birria on the menu at Lodi’s high schools, using Maggie’s finely-tuned and well-practiced recipe.
When we asked her what she cooks at home, she replied, “Everything. Tamales. I’ll make tamales any time of the year.” Will these too make on appearance on the Lodi high school menus with Birria? We hope so.
Favorite tool: Passion