Why did you decide to become a CDM?
It makes me feel blessed to be able to make other people happy, and the best part is: you don’t have to say anything. When they take a bite from what you make for them, the smile on their face will do it all. When you have culinary pride and you cook with love, people can tell and they are thankful.
What are your main responsibilities in your position?
My role primarily is to bring fresh ideas and innovative concepts to K-12 education foodservice. My position is responsible for overseeing the dayto-day foodservice operations at a K-12 grade level account. I manage and lead a team of 69 employees. I am responsible for managing client relationships, along with ensuring that the food offered to the students is fresh, healthy and tastes great. I also spend a lot of my time communicating with my teams and our client partner, their staff, students and the whole community to ensure we’re providing a great dining experience and a positive environment while meeting the wants and needs of our students.
What is an example of an innovative way you have made a change at your facility and how did you implement it?
On a regular basis, I am bringing snacks and meals to 11 schools, from elementary through high
school, and putting the focus on the nutritional content of what’s served and introducing students to
healthy foods that taste great. I’m really involved with our Chefs 2 Schools program, which is all about
connecting students with chefs to introduce new flavors and ideas and start conversations about
eating well. The feedback I get when I bring something like a nice warm apple crisp to the cafeterias
for the students to sample is amazing. The program rolled out this school year, and students and their
parents get a heads-up in advance about what’s coming to their school and when. Fresh, nutritious
and delicious is the mandate. Even those who think they’d prefer potato chips or a packaged
snack embraced the warm baked apple slices recently served at several elementary schools as a
midmorning snack. Students were really interested to learn how we baked the apple slices - with
raisins and spices and a nice oat topping – and even hearing about how we keep them warm to eat.
We keep them warm with extra pans in the school kitchen. I have seen three or four lines of students
waiting to try something new, serving between 400 and 900 students at each of five elementary
schools. We had quite a few come back and ask for seconds.
How did you first get started in the foodservice industry?
I grew up in Willowick and went to Royalview Elementary. I graduated from North High in Eastlake after completing a high school occupational work-experience program in which I was employed at a small area restaurant and learned on the job. After graduating from North High School in Eastlake, I went on to culinary studies at the former Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pittsburgh, from which I graduated in 2000. I served as Director of Dining Services for several assisted living and retirement communities before taking the job with Chartwells.
What are the biggest challenges in foodservice and how do you handle them?
Many preschoolers are hesitant to try new foods. It is completely normal for young kids to reject foods they have never tried before. I was invited to career days at a few elementary schools to explain how I became a chef and rundown my day to day responsibilities. I was honored to accept the invitation seeing how I attended the same career days in the same school in the very same classroom. I took this opportunity to get the children to experience and taste some fruits that they may not have ever tasted before including mandarin oranges, strawberries, grapes and dried cranberries. I took this as an opportunity to introduce myself and what it took me to get to the position I am in now. Then we talked about the importance of hand washing and watched a cartoon video about it, explaining it further in a fun way that would get them all excited and eager to kill all the germs. After that I had set bowls at each of their group tables of different fruits and had them come up to my display table where they each picked up a plate which had a round cut-out piece of toasted whole grain bread and strawberry cream cheese spread on top of it. They then brought it back to their group tables to create silly faces where they got to eat their creation afterwards. It was an absolute hit and afterwards I received a package in my office including photos of my time with the children and handwritten thank you letters and pictures which made my day! It was one of the most touching things I have ever recieved in my lifetime.
What is your favorite part of your job?
You know what they say- “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Well helping fuel my students with the proper nutrition to help them be healthy and able to make it through their day full of studying and being active, as well as hearing them say how delicious it is, is my favorite part of my job.
I really became interested in healthy eating in 2010 when (First Lady) Michelle Obama told the world it was her passion.“In the end, as First Lady, this isn’t just a policy issue for me. This is a passion. This is my mission,” Obama said. “I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition.” She championed regular exercise for kids and began her campaign to increase the nutritional standards in schools. I believe if kids eat well, and learn about eating well, they’ll want to continue to eat well and will take those habits home with them and carry them on later in life. When I served cooked-to-order omelets to Willoughby Middle School in early March, some students told me it was the best thing they’d ever eaten. We had a constant lineup of students until the bell rang for class – some came in early that day just to enjoy the omelet! My latest venture for the schools has been a “Love Salad” promotion. Students are given a salad pre-dressed with raspberry vinaigrette and then choose toppings from among roasted sunflower seeds, strawberries, mandarin oranges, cucumbers, red onions, grape tomatoes and kale. Then we make their salad right in front of them.
How do you stay up-to-date with current innovations and trends?
First, I schedule time weekly to devote to reading and networking with chefs, dietitians and others in similar fields. Staying up-to-date requires a regular commitment if it’s to pay off, so I work time into my schedule whenever I can. Some good times are over lunch breaks, if applicable, or during a “low-energy” period of the day. Keep in mind that you probably don’t need to know everything, from every source, about your industry. Your largest time investment will be up front, but once you’ve found a few reputable sources, you’ll learn the most important information without having to spend much time searching for it.
How do you envision the foodservice industry in the next few years and beyond?
The next decade or two will see growth in locally-sourced food with almost no waste coming from their facilities – real plates, even for fast food. And it’s more than how the food was grown; it’s also about a company’s energy and water use, transportation, equipment, supply chain management, packaging and waste. Garnering efficiencies in these areas and elsewhere promotes sustainability and cuts costs and keeps jobs available within your community.
See more from Michael in the CDM Spotlight section of the July/August issue of Edge magazine!