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The Perennial

The Perennial

More Than Delivering Hot Lunches: Behind Pinewood’s Epicurean Team

Elizabeth Liang

   Every day as the lunch crowd clusters around the red food truck, students are greeted by a duo of smiling faces behind the window. Epicurean chefs Lydia Contreras and Carlos Perez have been providing the Pinewood community with meals for years, and the process behind each plate is a practiced journey.   

   Both chefs have been working at Pinewood for around a decade. In fact, prior to working in the school lunch industry, Contreras worked in the restaurant industry for thirty-four years. However, she explained that providing school lunches requires more consideration compared to working in regular restaurants. 

   “It’s a big difference,” Contreras said. “Here we have to think about the kids, especially the little ones. We can’t make spicy things.”

   Since all three Pinewood campuses share the same menu, the Epicurean team has had to remove items from the menu in the past to cater to younger palettes. Unfortunately for lovers of Indian cuisine, the team removed chicken masala from the lunch rotation due to its spice content. 

   Determining the menu is the starting point of the journey behind each Epicurean plate. Contreras, Perez, and their boss sit at a table at the start of each month, contemplating what culinary adventures to serve to the students.  

   “[We] sit around…[and] everyone will decide,” Contreras said. “And sometimes it depends [on] how [the meal] sells in [Pinewood].” 

   With the menu decided, the next step involves the ingredients, which are stored at Pinewood’s Lower Campus. There, Contreras and Perez prepare each plate in the kitchen before delivering the meals to Upper Campus via van.    

   The Epicurean chefs also take transportation into account when choosing menu items to make sure the food stays in good condition. 

   “We prepare basic things,” Contreras explained. “[Since] we bring everything to [Upper Campus], it’s definitely not too fancy.”

   Take the teriyaki chicken for example. The night before it’s served, it sleeps in a marinade of soy sauce, pineapple juice, ginger, garlic, and sesame seeds. In the morning, it’s baked in the oven then stir-fried in a special sauce. Perez and Contreras then escort the dish to Upper Campus in their van, and voila: lunch is served. 

   While Perez does most of the chopping, marinating, and stir-frying, Contreras has her own forte.

   “I like to bake,” she said. 

   The weekly Wednesday brownies, churros, and rice krispies as well as the baked goods in the Snack Shack are all handmade by her. 

   When asked about her feelings towards her job at Pinewood, Contreras only had one thing to say. “I love my job! I love my job,” she said. “I think [the entire Epicurean team] loves it here, especially because the teachers and everybody here is really nice with us [and] takes care of us. I love my job.” 

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