Melinda Beasley, Food Service Assistant II, Sonoma Valley High School, Sonoma Valley Unified School District
Origin: Grand Rapids, Michigan
A graduate of Sonoma Valley High School where she now works, Melinda has been with the district 15 years. “I love Sonoma,” she tells us before the rush of serving 400 students in 10 minutes begins. “It’s a repeat of my childhood. I now have 2 grown children. This is a tight knit community and I realize just how special it is.”
Melinda learned to cook when she got married and immediately liked the artistic side of food. Although she grew up in a large Italian family -her mom had eight kids- she says she did not grow up cooking alongside her mother. Her mom worked, and Melinda says her sisters Ann and Sue influenced her taste in food growing up.
How school food service professionals find their way into their job interests us greatly. Often we hear women, in particular, saying it is a job born of wanting to work close to their children. Melinda’s story fits that description.
She had children growing up and decided to earn some extra money to help with finances. She began as a yard duty, got to know the kitchen ladies and they asked her if she’d be interested in coming to work in the kitchen. She started part time and then became first a substitute and then became full time. “It’s a perfect job with perfect hours for a working mom,” she says, as if in echo to hundreds we have also heard tell that tale, and who like Melinda, love working with the students and food so much they stay far past their children’s growing up years.
“Back then we served French fries,” she reflects when we ask her about the changes she’s seen since 1999. “My first job as a sub was to clean the fry machine. Now we bake the fries. Pepsi has gone as well as the vending machines with doughnuts.”
The fries and sugary stuff needed to go she tells us in all seriousness. “I’m so happy with the fruit and veggie bar. The salad bar got off to a slow start, but now it’s popular. All our food is grab and go except for Friday’s — when Chef Cody serves up his specials.” Everyone we’ve spoken with in the district seems happy about Chef Cody’s work — that would be Cody Williams, the Food Service Manager who arrived one year ago fresh from 10 years in the hospitality industry, including most recently the Napa Valley landmark Mustards Grill, Cindy Pawlcyn’s beloved restaurant.
One thing we’ve seen throughout school districts over the past several years is a cleaning up of ingredients. Melinda proudly explains that Sonoma’s meats are 100% beef – no additives or fillings. And, she comments on the student’s evolving tastes as she exposes them to new and different flavors, “They are getting to know artichoke hearts and edamame. Our kids are fortunate. They are getting world class bread. Our sandwiches sell out every day now.”
What would Melinda like her fellow school food service professionals across the United States to know? “I love kids to try something new. We put out new foods on a repetitive basis to increase familiarity, but like your mom would say at home, I tell ‘em, ‘just try a bite.’”
Favorite Kitchen Tool: “I do love the Robot Coupe [food processor] but I’ll go with a kitchen timer you can hear from another room.”