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One-on-One with a SAGE Team: Allen Clark and Mohamed Dirir

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Meet dream team Allen Clark and Mohamed Dirir, Food Service Director (FSD) and Executive Chef at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta, Georgia. Their philosophy on working as a team and striving to be better every day is inspiration for us all!

What’s the ideal relationship between a FSD and an Executive Chef?

Allen: It’s built on trust. The FSD trusts the Executive Chef to produce food that completely meets SAGE standards for taste, safety, and presentation. The Chef trusts the FSD to build menus that can be produced by the team with the facility and equipment available. They should be leaders who push the team’s boundaries and encourage each other to stretch. Constant communication and trust between the two are central to building a team that will constantly strive for a higher bar.

How would you describe your relationship?

A: Like a hand and a glove. Mohamed is a great cook with a lot of talent and experience, and he’s really good at motivating people. He has great relationships here at the school, so he’s able to introduce me to people and really expand my web of influence.

What’s your team philosophy?

Mohamed: Everyone on our staff is excited to get to work every day—with Allen, with me, and with each other. Every morning, we have our ten-minute meeting, and we say “This is what we did yesterday and this is what we’ve done today. What can we do to improve tomorrow?”

How do you stay motivated when things get tough?

A: I always challenge my staff to do things differently than we’ve done them before. We make a lot of things from scratch, and that takes time and practice. We’ve developed relationships strong enough that we can say things to each other that the other person doesn’t want to hear. But they’re open to listening to somebody else’s criticism, and that’s a great thing.

What makes a good day for your team?

A: We have a good day almost every day. I’d have an easier time describing what a bad day was because they’re such an anomaly. A bad day is when the truck comes late and we’re scrambling and we’re not ready to serve at the level we’d like. A good day is when we’re able to really go out and put ourselves out there for the people we’re serving. We know the people we serve by name. We know what they like and what they don’t like, and we’re able to perform for them. That makes our work really fun.

Any special memories to share?

M: There was a student who would go home every day and tell her mother there was nothing to eat at lunch. There are a lot of options here, and her mother, who knew that, came to me and said, “Can you help me to encourage my daughter to eat well?” The student was a picky eater—she only liked pasta, pizza, and french fries. So I’d walk with her through the line and encourage her to try new things. Now she’s eating more salads, baked chicken, and other healthy foods.

Do you get to work with the community frequently?

A: Absolutely. We’ve talked to a lot of parents over the years. Out of everything we serve, the item we get asked about most is sloppy joes—“How do you make those sloppy joes? My kids love them.” But you know, it’s nice that the kids are going home and talking to their parents, having a conversation about what they had at lunch that day.

Can you reveal the secret of the sloppy joe, or is it under lock and key?

A: It’s the SAGE recipe. Look it up. [Laughs] [Note to readers: we’ll share the recipe soon!]

What are you looking forward to in the future?

M: [MVPS] is planning a new high school building with a state-of-the-art kitchen, which I’m looking forward to. The kids get really excited when we [display] cook for our culinary education program, Educational Seasonings. When we have the capacity, I’d love to make food in front of them every day.

Any final words on what makes your team special?

M: Our Team Members have great relationships with each other. We’re just like a family, always doing things for each other. Instead of bringing each other down, we lift each other up.

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