ROSE MARIE HUIZAR, Cafeteria Manager 2, River City High School, Washington Unified School District, West Sacramento, CA
Stepping into the gleaming River City High School kitchen, fully outfitted with stove tops, convection ovens, walls of pots and pans, and a long length of sinks, it is immediately evident this is a serious cooking kitchen. Not surprisingly, the kitchen is managed by a serious cook, Rosie Huizar. Rosie grew up in a home headed by her Puerto Rican mother and Mexican father, and their house was filled with the scent and taste of good food, all homemade. There was, she told us, always homemade soup. “I took right after my mother. For my soups, I throw in some carrots, grate some fresh corn, add garbanzos, and then I spice it up with chilies.”
Homemade soups are just one of the many housemade specialties of River City High School. The soup of the day might be Potato and Leek, Chicken Noodle, or maybe a spicy vegetable version, but there is always hot, nourishing soup available in the cafeteria’s food court setting where up to 1400 students come in daily for lunch. The campus is closed, so no one leaves and all students eat lunch at school.
At a huge, commercial wok installed behind the cafeteria’s service counter, a staff member cooks up vegetable-laden, fresh stir-fries. There’s a pizza station – always popular – plus an array of sandwiches and wraps, an extensive salad bar, and each day a different manager’s choice. The day we visited the manager’s choice was a freshly made burrito, plump with savory beans, rice and chicken, folded together with a just-right spiced red sauce, worthy to be served in any restaurant, and enjoyed by many of the school’s staff as well as students.
As part of our consulting work, we’ve given a series of professional development cooking classes for Washington Unified School District, under the direction of their food service director, Kari Pina. The classes are held in Rosie’s kitchen. When we asked her how she liked the classes and if she found them useful, she replied, “I love the classes. I’ve gone home and tried every recipe we’ve made here – then I take the less time-consuming ones and use them in my cafeteria. I’ve made a lot of the stuff we make in our lessons for the kids — the orange chicken, butternut squash two ways – one mixed with carrots and one steamed – the salad dressings and some of the soups. I scale up the recipes from family style no problem. I’m always cooking and I love to cook.”
It’s a testimony to the quality of the food at River City High School that, according to Rosie, quite a few of the teachers buy lunch in the cafeteria, along with the students. “We are seeing an increase in both the number of students and teachers,” she says. “I see a lot of kids eating salads – we’ve totally gotten away from iceberg here.” A quick look into her walk-in refrigerator provides testimony to that.
Rosie has been with the district 19 years, starting working a few hours a day when her daughter began pre-school. “Back then, we really cooked. We cooked off whole turkeys, made our own gravy – really a much better flavor – and real mashed potatoes, plus a homemade roll and canned corn or beans.” All the kitchens in the Washington School District still bake, however, and we wouldn’t be surprised one of these days to see a whole turkey coming out of one of Rosie’s kitchen’s ovens.
Favorite tool: The oven
The great tostada she makes
Her pizza oven — cooking everything from scratch, pizzas, a daily soup, salad dressings, salsas.