by Ariana Wiseman ’24
As students enjoy buying school lunches, many wonder what goes into the process of making these fulfilling meals.
Jesus Estramera, Food Service Director at TLS, and his staff work tirelessly in the kitchen preparing food for hundreds of students and faculty on a daily basis.
“My staff and I get here between 6:00 and 6:30 in the morning, starting one item at a time to start getting the food ready in time for the students,” Estramera said. “I have different people working on different dishes for each meal. Some work on cold items, and others work on hot food.”
Although there is plenty of work to be done in the kitchen for the meal being served each day, Estramera also has to make orders a week in advance for upcoming meals.
“On a weekly basis I will place orders for the next week’s meal, ” Estramera said. “So I will order something on Monday, and the vendors will have it delivered for the Friday meal. However, the kitchen staff and I also have to make the side dishes the day the meal will be served, so it can be a little stressful having to make all the sides in time for the first round of kids to come in.”
Not only does Estramera have to oversee what is happening in the kitchen, he also has to prepare the menu.
“It is all a trial and error process,” Estramera said. “I develop the menu and try to put out new things each week. Then we see if the students and faculty like it. If I make a meal and there are a lot of leftovers, I know that the food that day was not such a big hit. But if I serve something and don’t have many leftovers, I know that a majority of the kids and teachers enjoyed the food.”
When preparing meals for hundreds of people, it is important to consider a variety of dietary needs.
“I have a lot of people who are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free,” Estramera said. “With that, comes the need for making a few different options in terms of those needs.”
For Estramera and his staff, returning in September of 2020 was a substantial challenge for the kitchen workers.
“Coming back from COVID, I lost a lot of my staff, which I didn’t even have that many of before that,” Estramera said. “It was a little difficult having to train new staff members, but it was also exciting knowing that we were going to have new people in the kitchen.”
When the meals had to be distributed in tins and boxes in order to reduce the spread of germs, things were more challenging for the kitchen. In addition, the mask mandate created a hardship for the staff, who have worked tirelessly in the heat.
“Last year when we were packaging the food, we worked hard to try to rush the packaging in time for lunch,” Estramera said. “It takes forever to package the food, and although we were making everything the same way we make it now, after the change in temperature, the food didn’t taste as good. Doing it this way is so much better because the food is fresh and hot, and we have more time to prepare.”
After the mask mandate was lifted, the work for kitchen staff became easier.
“It’s hard to work in a hot area with masks on,” Estramera said. “I would constantly have to take down my mask to taste test foods and sometimes I would even forget to take the mask down, and bump the food against my mask.”
Operations Associate David Young works with Five Star and focuses on aspects outside of the kitchen itself.
“I work with Five Star to tweak the menu to try and make it better,” Young said. “I also set the rates for the lunch program. Like, if students travel to Israel it’s a different rate for that grade since they’re missing meals.
“Sometimes I put together a letter that goes out to all parents to tell them when signing up for the lunch program opens. I also pull the data and go through the enrollment and send it to the nurse to make sure any severe allergies are flagged and ensure that the kitchen staff make enough vegetarian options.”
In order for Young to help Estramera plan a successful menu, Young needs feedback and opinions on what students want to be served.
“I work with the student government to get feedback on certain meals and try to change it to make sure that the students can give their opinions on what they want to be served for lunch,” Young said.
Not only does the kitchen try to serve delicious food, but they also make sure that the food is nutritious.
“We usually try to have a vegetable and a protein in every meal,” Young said. “We try to make sure that you know there are enough nutrients and every meal can have healthy options.”
Despite COVID-related challenges for the kitchen team, their never ending work pays off when they see their creations enjoyed by students and staff alike.
“Coming back to school from COVID was definitely hard with having to package everything, but now that we can just make the food and serve it, I know the students and faculty enjoy the meals much more than last year,” Estramera said.