CANDY JO REIGER, CAFÉ SUPERVISOR II, LODI JOINT UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, LODI, CA
Origin: Phoenix, AZ
Candy Jo’s husband is a native of Lodi and, like many people in California’s Central Valley, the two of them value having space to grow their own fruits and vegetables. “We live out in the country,” says Candy, pictured to the left next to the tilt skillet she loves to cook in.
“We have 2 ½ acres of land. We’ve always had a big garden and fruit trees. We have 2 cherry trees, Fuyu persimmon trees, 2 almond trees, 1 pear, 1 apricot tree – we have a variety of everything.”
When we asked what she cooked at home, the answer was easy for Candy, who said she loves to cook, just like her grandmother did. She rattles off a veritable litany from her garden – broccoli and cauliflower, zucchini on the grill, baked sweet potatoes, tomato soup, and more. “When you are gardening and farming, everything goes well together.” Candy understands the logic of using what is ripe and in season, not only at home but at school.
“We buy locally – Gala apples, heirloom tomatoes and capitalize on the price. What things cost always matters – it always matters in business. For example, we don’t buy the Fuyu persimmons for school – they are just too expensive. That’s the truth.” You can tell she wishes that she could. “We leave the stems on the mandarins we serve, and the leaves. It shows they are from a tree and that they are fresh.” Pictured left are the fruit they were serving the day we visited Candy.
Candy originally trained as a medical secretary but, 15 years ago when her children were small, she started with food service as a 3-hour employee. Now she is a key member of Lodi Food Service Director Warren Sun’s Tasting Committee. The committee explores new recipes and new tastes with potential for introducing them into the school menus. “She’s my creative person,” says Warren Sun. A recipe is developed and then tasted first on the adult line. Candy explains, “These have more ingredients, and more spices. For the students, the ingredient list is more narrow – for example, something might not be a spice for the student palate, plus cooking for 20 versus 200 we might not be able to deliver the same quality. So we use the adult tasting to work out any bugs. I believe food should be tasty, as well as healthy.”
We couldn’t concur more. Who wants to eat something that doesn’t taste good?
“Probably our favorite student items right now are the Asian Bar, with Kung Pau Chicken, Turkey and Gravy with Mashed Potatoes, and the kids like the salad bar.” We suspect there is going to be a lot more student favorites in the future as Candy and others work creatively to introduce new, healthy, tasty items into the Lodi school lunch.
Favorite tool: Whisk “It’s nostalgic,” Candy says. “It does a lot of different things. It can make gravy, whip egg whites, and give soups a really pretty texture.”
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Toppings
Sweet potatoes, with their natural, nutty sweetness, lend themselves to a variety of savory toppings. For a Mexican style, top with carnitas, black beans, a little sour cream and salsa. For Southern flavors, use pulled pork, some roasted sweet peppers and barbeque sauce. For vgetarian try chopped broccoli and grated cheddar cheese. There are lots of options, and well-topped sweet potato makes a meal.
4 small sweet potatoes, each about 1/3 pound or larger ones that can be halved
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Shredded Red and Green Cabbage
Roasted Sweet Peppers
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Rub the potatoes with the olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast until tender when pierced with the tines of a fork, about 1 hour.
Serve the sweet potatoes sliced open, lengthwise. If using large sweet potatoes, cut in half with one half per serving.