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One-on-One with a SAGE Food Service Director: Kerry Watts

SAGE Community, One-on-One

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Kerry Watts is the SAGE Food Service Director at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, VA. Kerry’s been with SAGE for eight years, all of which she’s spent with her community at Hargrave.

How did you get started with food service?

I got a job at the local pizza joint during college. It felt very natural. I picked up restaurant gigs when I moved to Colorado, and then to Santa Fe, where I started working in restaurants that actually got press. I could send a gourmet magazine back to my parents and say, “Look where I’m working!” It made me realize that cooking wasn’t just a paycheck; it was a career that made absolute sense for me.

And with SAGE?

A friend of mine was hired as Food Service Director at Hargrave. I jokingly said, “Take me with you,” and he did—I got hired as the Assistant Food Service Director, and eventually moved up to FSD. I’ve been here ever since.

What’s your favorite thing about SAGE?

SAGE has afforded me a larger professional community that I can rely on. I feel comfortable calling anybody. You feel like you’re an equal, that it’s not intimidating to call your Vice President with a concern. That’s really unique having come out of restaurants, where the hierarchy can be so structured.

And your favorite thing about working at Hargrave?

Hands-down, my cadets. We’re an all-male military academy. If I’m having a bad day, I force myself to go out and talk to the cadets, and I’m immediately cheered up. If I’m having a good day, I go out and talk to the cadets, who tell me something absolutely outrageous—you can’t make this stuff up.

What’s your relationship with your staff?

I have staff members who’ve been here for 14, 19, 23 years. I’ve had a lot of staff who have a tremendous amount of knowledge and are incredible workers, and my staff taught me how to be a better director. I’m the best director I can be right now, largely because my staff was patient, and allowed me to make mistakes, and to correct them. I have huge love for my staff. They’re an incredibly knowledgeable, supportive staff, and I’m super-lucky to have them.

When we bring somebody new in, we tell them: “It’s not going to take you weeks to learn how to do this. It’s going to take you years, but no one here is going to let you fail.”

Do they have any culinary specialties?

Ms. Yolanda [Jordan] makes the most amazing fried chicken, calabash tilapia, pinto beans, cornbread, braised cabbage, and macaroni and cheese, and she calls it “Soul Food Sunday for Lunch.” That’s probably our biggest hit in terms of a single day.  She can throw down on some fried chicken.

And what’s your specialty at home?

I love to make real New Mexican food for my husband, especially on Sunday mornings when we have red chile breakfast burritos or red and green chile breakfast nachos.

How’s Hargrave celebrating the Fourth of July?

For the Fourth of July, we do a cookout outside for the boys in summer school. We do a giant make-your-own ice cream sundae in a kiddie pool with gallons of ice cream and all the toppings. It’s a big hit with the kids.

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