The day after Christmas, Sam Milligan flew to Chicago. A member of SAGE's Culinary Support Team, our “mobile elite” who move from venue to venue at a moment's notice when help is needed, Sam had just one week to set up dining services at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School. There was a lot of work to do—not only to get the kitchen up and running, but also to build trust with the community. He approached a complicated situation with a simple outlook: “We become part of the community instead of separating ourselves, and we continue to do that.”
From day one, Sam and his team have been steadfast in their resolve to understand the unique needs of Bernard Zell and to respond in a timely and effective manner. They maintain a kosher kitchen and serve logistically complicated Shabbat lunches weekly. They work closely with the school nurse to accommodate students with food allergies. They serve new dishes to rave reviews. This team is dedicated, and they have a special kind of synergy.
The diversity of this group is remarkable—the melting pot cliché is real in this kitchen. Andrew and Javier cook the entrees. Andrew is from a 2,000 acre farm in rural Iowa and Javier is from Cuba. Javier's quiet sense of humor and calm approach soften Andrew's no-nonsense style. Luis and Angela prepare the salad bar and meals that are delivered to younger students' classrooms. Luis is a former sushi chef with a reserved demeanor. He's worked at Bernard Zell for years; many see him as the mainstay of the kitchen. Angela has been at the school for only a few months, but she's made a big impression with her huge smile and positive attitude. Every day, these personalities come together in the back of the house to produce some amazing results. Watch this group work, and you'd think they'd been a team for years, not months.
According to Bernard Zell's Head of School Noah Hartman, the entire dining transition has seemed effortless—in his words, “miraculous.” For him, this transition has meant lunches served by friendly team members who are known by name. It's meant lots of jokes, smiles, and great food. It has been a happy experience, and the satisfied parents are a testament to this. “I get so many positive emails,” he says, “and I'm really looking forward to what's ahead.”
Sam recently said goodbye to his team at Bernard Zell. He's moving on to Palo Alto to assist the team that's just opened a new account there, turning the Bernard Zell helm over to Food Service Director Ben Randall. Coming in, Ben says, “I walked into an operation that works because Sam carefully assembled a very solid crew and established important relationships with faculty and staff.” Clearly, Sam has done more than just set up a new venue; he's fostered a community that can't wait to see its food service expand. Next year might bring anything from linen tablecloths to additional educational programs, or even summer camps. Whatever comes their way, one thing is for certain—this team is ready.