The lights switch on at six AM in the BHS kitchen. Pasta begins to boil, lettuce is chopped, and onions sizzle. While the rest of the world is asleep, the kitchen is just waking up.
“I come in. I get here at 6. it’s still dark, and turn on all the equipment,” Chef Shannon Anderson said. “It depends on the day and I pick one thing to cook first. Pasta day, I cook the pasta first. Stir fry day, I cook the rice first, just getting everything going.”
Anderson has been at BHS for nearly two years.
“I was a United States Marine and after that I went to culinary school. I worked at a couple restaurants and then I decided that I wanted to take it easy and help the community and feed kids and I started being into school jobs,” Anderson said.
Anderson can usually be seen in the bistro line alongside coworker Jo Robinson, jamming to music and cooking students’ customized lunch orders.
“The interaction I get to have with the students gets pretty funny here in line three. We’ve recently adopted the music, and we just like to have a good time,” Anderson said.
Pat Teague, Executive Chef of the Burlington School District is the one who can be thanked for many of the innovative creations in the cafeteria. These include but are not limited to: the grab and go’s, salads, buddha bowls, and all of line three.
“Patsy is a head chef and she really drives and structures what we make and she’s full of great ideas and recipes and is the reason that this cook to order line that we do exists.” Robinson said. “She’s really amazing, and Shannon really helps see it through. I’m just here to help the two of them make it happen.”
Teague sees a unique connection between the kitchen staff and the students.
“I like line 3.” Teague said “I also love that whole interaction with the students, and actually communicating. You get to know them. Obviously Shannon knows what you order, you don’t even need to ask, she knows who’s a vegetarian and I think it makes people feel good, important, and noticed”
Although everyone I spoke to expressed a love for their work, the job is not free from challenges.
“We wish we could give you more food, but we have specific guidelines that we have to follow,” Robinson said. “ I know sometimes at the very end of each lunch we will be low on something and we won’t have time to make more because it’s so busy and people wait in these long lines and then can’t get what they want, which makes me sad.”
Teague finds it frustrating when students are ungrateful.
“It’s hard to keep patience sometimes when kids are rude, or entitled.” Teague said “ I feel like we’re going above and beyond. You know, I go to conferences and this school is one of the top schools in the nation. I think it was rated number six for cafeteria food, so we’re way up there more than anyone even realizes”
Food education and youth outreach manager Sarah Huesner urges students to be kind towards the kitchen staff and sees the positive impact it has.
“One of the things every student should remember when they come through our lunch line is to smile and say thank you. It’s super important.” Huesner said. “It’s a big thing. Our staff feed off it. They really like it when people are kind and they care about what they do a lot.”
Photo: Nora Jacobsen(Left to right) Shannon Anderson and Jo Robinson get their Halloween spirit on as they serve hungry students.
Mutual appreciation and seems to be a key ingredient in the lunchroom. Lakshmi Courcy, who also works in food service at BHS, sees strong relationships between the kitchen staff and students form.
“Kids really like me and I like them, you know? We have a really good relationship with the kids” Courcy said.
Robinson agrees saying “I really like getting to see kids every day and seeing how they’re doing and seeing them try new things and get excited about food, that makes me really happy.”
Dawn Hathaway, charmingly self identified as “lunch lady,” agrees that the students are what she cherishes most about the job, and loves watching them grow up.
Photo: Nora JacobsenDawn Hathway cheerfully waits for students at the register.
Although this is only Hathaway’s first year at BHS, she has been with the district for 23 years. Many current BHS students may remember her from Integrated Arts Academy and Edmund’s schools.
“Watching the kids go through school, and then their kids are coming back, and now I see that some of the people that had their kids here, that they’re grandparents and stuff and have grandkids that come here now, so I get to see them in all stages,” she said with a smile. “You get to just watch the family grow.”
Hathaway is not the only longtime veteran on the staff. Eileen Daudelin has worked at BHS for 18 years and has spent 12 of those years in the snack bar.
“I love the people I work with. I love what I do, and I love seeing the kids.” Daudelin said.
Photo: Nora JacobsenEileen Daudelin strikes a pose from her usual post behind the snack bar.
Joshua Cushing, on the other hand, is new to the job and as of December 6th, had only been there for five days. Although Cushing is a new hire, he is familiar with the environment.
Cushing, BHS class of 2001, remembers what the cafeteria was like during his time at the school.
“They only had the two lines that you walk through, and normally there was a lot of same things on the menu, so like chicken patties with fries or something along them lines,” Cushing said.
Cushing’s ties with the BHS cafeteria extend through generations. His mother Barbara Cushing worked in this kitchen for 20 years.
“She said that she loved the people, she loved working with her coworkers. She’s deceased now, so God bless,” Cushing said, pausing as another kitchen staff member shouted out, “the legend!”
“Yeah the legend, that is my mother,” Cushing said as more exclamations of affection were tossed around the kitchen.
This positive dynamic does not appear to have changed. Hathaway describes the unique bond shared between the kitchen staff as a family.
“It’s great. I like everybody. They know I love them all. I’d do anything for them,” Hathaway said. “I think it’s a great relationship. We are like a close knit family.”