CATHY MILLER, Lead Cook, Esparto Unified School District, Esparto, CA
Origin: Capay Valley, CA
Cathy Miller is at home in a big kitchen, cooking from scratch. She grew up on a 300 acre ranch in the lush Capay Valley, just a stone’s throw from the small rural community of Esparto where she works. “My grandparents lived on the ranch too and my grandmother taught me to cook by handful.” On the ranch there were often a lot of people to feed, and later, Cathy raised her own family. “Food is my strong point and what I do best.”
The day we visited Cathy at the middle school kitchen which also serves as a central kitchen for the district, Cathy was steaming broccoli and carrots to go into an Asian-type rice bowl (pictured left) that was going to be served for school lunch. “You can buy Asian style vegetables frozen, but these are fresh. The frozen ones turn to mush.” We agree with her. The flavor of Cathy’s rice bowl was delicious and texture, perfect.
Cathy has a strong food background and worked in the Woodland Unified School District Nutrition Services for almost 10 years before accepting a promotion to a security position. Then, in 2013, she saw there was an opening at the Esparto school district and here she is, back in school food service. Pictured left is the Central Kitchen in which she cooks, one of the most well equipped we’ve seen.
“I love working with kids. That is why I do this work. I think they need me. I try to bond with them, as a friend and a confidante, but still an authority figure. If I use my big-girl voice, they don’t want to hear it.”
Miss Cathy, as she is known, told us a story that illustrates her compassion and dedication to the students she serves and reflects in many ways other stories that we have heard from the now nearly 100 food service workers we have interviewed across California.”I had a kid in the Woodland school district. Everyone wrote him off –mean, foul, drugs. I never raised my voice to him and finally I built a bond of trust with him. He got kicked out of school. I pulled him aside on his last day of school. ‘You prove them wrong,’ I said to him. He eventually got his diploma and a job, and he came back and thanked me. I know I can make a difference, even if only one kid. It is worth it.” No doubt Cathy has made a lot of difference in many young people’s lives.
“I was the homeless liaison in Woodland. I knew which kids were homeless and I got them in that lunch line. Truly remember, it’s about the kids, and that school lunch might be the only hot meal they get.”
Cathy’s dedication is remarkable not only in terms of the quality of the fresh cooked meals she helps to put on the students’ plates, everyday, but in terms of her compassion and caring for the young people who trust her.
Favorite tool: oven