Mashaye Barr, former Food Service Director (FSD) at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School, and newly-appointed AFSD at McDonogh School, took my call during a busy afternoon of what she called “magic”—making orange-blueberry muffins with her much-loved team.
How’d you get into food service?
My Uncle Peppi owned two restaurants in Baltimore. He taught me about food and integrity. I always had a hot meal with him, and got the greatest advice. He encouraged me to learn from the best: “Partner yourself with likeminded chefs, anyone that can push you and pull you.”
So that’s how I built my career. I kept challenging the notion of what a female culinarian was supposed to do, because at the time, it was just me. So I did whatever I had to do to outwork everyone around me, to learn what I needed to learn. And I’ve never reached my ceiling.
How did your career prepare you to work with SAGE?
I worked for The Capital Grille for over five years. Every day, Chef Larry Bernstein worked with me on different techniques from a French Culinary Institute cookbook. My first lesson was standing in front of the spice shelf and [tasting] everything. Five spice is disgusting. That sparked my transition to scratch cooking, and inspired me to take on mentees of my own.
Then I went to Hilton Hotels, where I had the opportunity to lead the restaurant and bar team and cater many events. I worked crazy hours—you know it’s bad when they give you a room key—but my Uncle Peppi had always taught me that hours in the kitchen meant dedication. My time at Hilton cemented my dedication and built my perseverance.
Can you recall any situations where that perseverance has come in handy?
I recall a time when we had no power on two different campuses miles apart, and we still prepped and served a meal. They were just going to order pizza, but we said, “Oh, no! SAGE will still provide you with a fantastic meal!” We still did Spa Water, Rishi Tea®, soup, a vegetarian protein, and two vegetables. We still had the salad bar going, as if it were a normal day. And that comes from my experience in hotels, because we had to adjust.
What keeps you grounded, focused, and inspired?
The students. I’m grateful for the opportunity to impact my community by creating great food.
And leading my team by example, showing them what they can do. Teaching my sous chef different things, showing my catering assistant how to do desserts, working side-by-side to help our receiver put up stock or do dishes—the little things that show that we work as a team to get it all done. They enable me to be successful.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
What I most look forward to is the kids coming through the line, and seeing the different foods we put out for Educational Seasonings. Their favorite one so far was the Brassica Bonanza, which I thought they wouldn’t enjoy because it’s Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower. But now we have Brussels sprouts featured more prominently on our menu, and the kids are actually gravitating to them. I try to find fun ways to get them to pick something they wouldn’t normally eat. It’s wonderful to have one person try it and say, “Oh, I like that!” and actually come back in the line for it.