Fayette County

Forget cafeteria pizza. Lexington school district to hire its first top chef.

Breckinridge Elementary cafeteria preparing for the school year

Penny Hisel-Church talks about the preparation of the cafeteria and how excited she is for students to be back.
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Penny Hisel-Church talks about the preparation of the cafeteria and how excited she is for students to be back.

As cafeteria staffs across the district got ready for the first day of school, the Fayette County school board on Monday approved for the first time the job position of District Chef.

That person, who has not yet been hired, will develop recipes, plan menus, and make sure the district complies with federal and state regulations involving child nutrition. The District Chef will work with cafeteria managers.

District Human Resource Director Jennifer Dyar said school districts across the country are creating the District Chef position. In Fayette County, said Dyar, the chef will focus on “the taste, the quality, the ingredients,” and making sure that students get fresh produce through the farm-to-table movement. She said the annual salary range for the chef position will be approximately $33,500 to $38,800 depending on experience and education level.

Ann Cooper, the founder of the Colorado-based Chef Ann Foundation, which helps school districts move from having processed food to cooked-from-scratch foods, said it is “becoming more mainstream” for school districts to hire chefs.

Cooper, a school food service director for the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, said the benefit is having “cooked-from-scratch food, real food.”

At the Breckinridge Elementary on Tuesday, cafeteria manager Penny Hisel-Church and her staff were among the district employees getting ready for Wednesday’s opening day in Fayette County Public Schools.

That meant managing 400 cases of food, putting cookies and rolls on trays so they could be baked on the first day Wednesday, “getting milk in the milk coolers for the line” and accepting deliveries of fruit and salad in preparation to serve an estimated 600 meals for lunch and 400 for breakfast.

Breckinridge is one of three dozen Fayette schools that qualify for a program called Community Eligibility Provision in that at least 40 percent of enrolled students qualify for federal assistance. All students at those schools receive free meals, and the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program reimburses the district for the cost. At all schools in the district in 2017-18, students who formerly were eligible for reduced price meals will also now receive free meals.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears