Darryl W. Graves, Sr., LAUSD Food Services Manager



Origin: Natchez, Mississippi

Darryl Graves, who’s been cooking for 31 years, is an accomplished chef whose resume includes everything from fine dining to hospitals, broilers, cafes, and schools. “I grew up watching my grandma cook. She had a little store next to our house where she sold her pralines, cakes, and other things. Mostly baking. Cooking has always been a part of my life. Even though I never went to culinary school – I came up through the school of hard knocks – cooking whenever I could, cooking was what I loved. Fast food, fine dining, I even cooked at Jackson State, where I went to school, I did batch cooking for the college.”

Listening to Graves talk about food, it is clear that he loves cooking. “When I was a kitchen manager in the Jackson school district, we made everything from scratch – cornbread, greens, everything.” With a degree in marketing and management from Jackson State University, he is trained to keep his eye on the bottom line and is always marketing his food, bringing students in to taste whatever he might be serving that day, and working to get the leaders of a given group to try new things, knowing that if they like it others will go along. “If the top person in a group likes something, the others will follow,” he said.

“It’s not county food, I tell them. Just taste it. You can’t just put out a tray of something new with a name on it, like Couscous Salad. They don’t know what that is or what it tastes like. They’ll walk right by it. You’ve got to talk to them, get them to try. And then they’ll choose it. At first, they wouldn’t eat salads. Then I got them to try, and now they’ll choose it even over Hot Chicken Wings.”

If a student can choose only entrée item for lunch, he or she is going to choose what is familiar, like the Hot Chicken Wings. What if they choose the new dish and don’t like it? Darryl is dedicated to getting the students to choose and to like the flavorful, healthy food he believes in.

Darryl also includes the parents, who are part of the marketing equation.  “If a parent comes by, I give them a meal and I charge it for marketing. I tell them, ‘Don’t let your kids tell you it was nasty and then raid your refrigerator when they get home.’”

Periodically, with his own money, he buys “food I feel like cooking today’. Recently he’s cooked prime rib, salmon stuffed with spinach, wrapped in filo dough and served with hollandaise sauce, a spinach salad with fresh berry vinaigrette, and even oysters. These dishes he cooks all from scratch, and, he tells us, they’re treats for the teachers that come in and buy school lunch. “A true food chef wants to take care of you, to feed you food and drink”, Darryl says. And that is what he does, every day, with his students.

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