Lodi’s Soup Specialist – Becky Octave

BECKY OCTAVE, Cafeteria Specialist II,  BEAR CREEK HIGH SCHOOL, LODI UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, CA

Origin: Koppern, Germany

“We’re going back to batch and bulk cooking. We find that not all the kids, for whatever reason, are getting home cooked meals. Personally, I love cooking big pots of soup, and I like creating different soups.”

She takes us into her kitchen and shows us the big pots she uses for her soup making and her favorite tool, an industrial size, heavy-duty hand blender. “This gets the job done, even though I can hardly hold it.” she laughs as she wields the tool.

We asked what kind of soups she liked to make. “My personal favorite is Beef Barley. I make it with broccoli, carrots, celery, onions, and pearl barley. I make Broccoli and Cheddar Cheese, I make Minestrone – soups have so many vegetables. Here we serve about 500 to 600 bowls of soup a day.”

Becky, who was adopted at 18 months by the people who became her parents, an Italian singer and a U S serviceman, came to the United States in 1959 when the family moved to St. Louis. She spent her high school years in southern California before moving to Oroville, CA in 1980. “There,” Becky says, shaking her head, “purely by chance, I discovered my biological parents. I have 2 sisters and a brother.”  It was a long, but very interesting, story, as she related it to us.

Her career in school nutrition began not in the kitchen, but with an application as a teacher’s aide. “I got into food when I came to northern California. I wanted to do something, so I applied as a teacher’s aide, then moved into food service.” We suspect it was those big pots for soup making that lured her, because her face lights up when she talks about making soup, her hands stirring with imaginary spoons as she describes the process.

She’s been with the Lodi district 30 years, and while retirement is a possibility, she is still cooking soup.

Favorite tool: of course, the big hand blender.

Here’s a soup recipe we think Becky might just like to serve. We know other school districts we’ve worked with love it, and several have featured it on their winter menu.

Butternut Squash Soup with Green Herbs

1 to 2 butternut squashes, to total about 5 pounds

2 tablespoons unsalted  butter

1/4 cup minced shallots

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Kosher or sea salt to taste

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and then scoop out and discard the seeds and stringy threads of the seed cavity. Using a sharp knife, peel one half of the squash and cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch cubes. If desired, cube first, then cut away the skin. Repeat with the other half. You should have 3 1/2 to 4 cups of squash.

In a large saucepan or soup pot over medium high heat, melt the butter. When it foams, add the shallots, reduce the heat to medium and sauté until translucent, but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and thyme, increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Add the cubed squash, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the squash is easily pierced with the tines of a fork, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and puree using an immersion blender. Alternatively puree in batches in a blender or food processor. Taste and add salt if desired.

Return to the heat if necessary.

Serve hot, garnished with the chives.

Serves 8

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