One-on-One with Donta Rogers, Sous Chef/Lead Cook at Our Lady of Assumption Catholic School, Atlanta, Georgia
How did you get into the food business?
I’ve always loved the kitchen. When I was younger, I did a lot of cooking with my mom. But my first job in the kitchen was dishwashing part-time when I was in college.
I played basketball and I got a scholarship to Clark University, Georgia State, and UVA. I chose Clark. My first year there, I was working in the kitchen, too.
That’s where I fell in love with cooking. The chef was from New Orleans. I love Creole dishes, and I was hooked. He made so many different cuisines — Costa Rican, Middle Eastern — the variety really kept my interest.
I ended up leaving Clark and went on to get my degree in computer science at a technical school. I got the same degree, but without the debt. But I liked the kitchen more. The kitchen was always where I wanted to be.
What’s your daily schedule like?
I get in around 6:00 a.m. I turn on the equipment, check the deliveries and make sure all the produce looks good, and start the entrées.
From there, the day goes by fast. We’re busy. I keep an eye on the team and make sure they’re following SAGE standards, HACCP, and food allergy protocols. And we have a ball. We really enjoy ourselves.
What do you like best about your job? What do you find to be the most rewarding?
I love working in a kitchen and in a school. My philosophy is, if you’ve got to be somewhere for eight hours, you should be happy. And it’s great to be around kids. On my break, I play basketball with them.
The kids are definitely the most rewarding part. They genuinely enjoy the food. On my birthday, they sang to me. I must’ve gotten about 50 cards. The parents know me, too. If they see me when they’re picking up their kids, they thank me because their kids are now eating vegetables at home.
What’s special about being a part of SAGE?
With SAGE, the menus are more regional and upscale. It’s not just pizza and fries. They throw some curveballs, and the kids get to try some food they might not otherwise. The menus are more like restaurants, more interesting.
Do you enjoy cooking off the clock? What do you do in your spare time?
I love to cook at home. I have a system. I usually cook two times a week — Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then plan leftovers for two days a week.
I’m a social person. My house is where everyone comes for cookouts. In my spare time, I’m busy taking my three kids here, there, and everywhere.
What are some character traits that make you successful?
Number one is definitely time management. Number two: I’m knowledgeable about a range of different ways to get things done. And number three — this is probably the most important — is that I have a lot of pride in everything that I do, no matter how small it is.
This came from my mom. She said, “Look, whatever you do, don’t just be doing it. Be the best at it. Put your all into in, not matter what it is.” Even when I was washing dishes, I always cared about it. When I’m cooking, I always try the food to make sure it tastes good.
A lot of people just do their jobs but have no sense of pride. If you have pride and put a lot in everything you do, someone is going to notice.