In honor of Women’s History Month in March, we’re celebrating the women of SAGE, what they’ve already accomplished during their food service careers, and the outstanding example they set for students as they create exceptional dining experiences every day.
For almost 20 years, SAGE has been the dining partner at Beaver Country Day School in Massachusetts. Senior Food Service Director Shiobanne Karampekios has worked there since 2019, following the arrival of Executive Chef Michele D’Amario in 2018. After sharing stories about how they got started in food service, the two of them talked about how closely they work together, how much they love being part of the Beaver community, and how well their team has handled the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How would you describe your relationship with the Beaver community?
Shiobanne: The relationship is very symbiotic. They never want something the same. They always want something new. They really want to partner with what you’re doing. If you look at our menu compared to a lot of other schools, you see very adventurous food here. We serve sushi. We have Indian, Middle Eastern, and Peruvian cuisine because this school allows you to do that. I’m allowed to use all my creative juices — I’d say they really foster it. That’s the beauty of it. It’s the collaboration. It’s the fact that we have the same vision and we want to deliver on everything new. That’s big here at Beaver — to be the newest, the brightest, the most different. We do this for them, and we love doing it.
Michele: It’s amazing. Our community is so supportive. What I really like about the Beaver community is a lot of them are foodies, a lot of the faculty, including our CFO. They honestly let me do whatever, as far as the creativity for catering. They’re very open to anything that I try. It’s amazing. It makes me feel like I’m back in a restaurant again, but I’m at a school.
How have you encouraged students to try new foods and learn more about the culinary world?
Shiobanne: I was here just a couple of months and then the pandemic started. I did a lot of videos. They could see me from my home kitchen. We connected on a different level. They see me in the dining room, but they don’t see me in action. The cooking lessons were amazing to get the children in the community connected to us. They began requesting for us to participate in things. We now do cooking classes that are intertwined in their curriculum. We do demos here. We love it.
Michele: We do Seasonings® events. We did a Middle Eastern one, and before COVID, we were doing one or two a month, and the kids get really into it. That’s the biggest way. I was putting some international food in the menu as well. We have a student food committee, and we’d go back and forth, and they’d let us know likes and dislikes and what they thought would be good for next time.
Which SAGE recipes are the most popular in your community?
Shiobanne: When it was more of a buffet style, they could see the food, and they would try all these new things. Now that the pandemic has hit and we do a lot of packaged items, it’s really the comfort food that they’re craving. They want mac and cheese, pulled pork, pizzas. We’ve tried to do more experimental stuff in the Seasonings. Michele created a Beet and Ginger Granola recipe that is superb. It just flies off the shelf.
Michele: We recently did General Tso’s chicken, and I did not have a fryolator. That was very interesting to do on a stovetop, but they loved it. They like comfort food this year. They’re into wings. I’ve been making French bread pizzas, and they like those.
What’s your process for getting new menu ideas?
Shiobanne: Michele and I, we’re a great partnership. Through Les Dames d’Escoffier, we’re privy to a lot of restaurants and a lot of opportunities that even during the pandemic, we’re still able to attend. It’s because we’re so commercially aware and know the new food trends, what is avant-garde, and what is going on locally that we’ve been able to mimic that here.
Michele: I do a lot of reading. I do a lot of researching. I look at West Coast restaurants and see what they’re doing. I don’t necessarily look at schools when I’m trying to come up with ideas. I look at obviously seasonality and what the new trends are. I try to get new recipes in SAGE’s collection. I just submitted 12 over the last week.
How has your team adapted to the challenges of COVID-19 and continued to make the dining program exciting?
Shiobanne: Michele and I came with such a positive attitude. Since the first day they came back, we told them we’re going to make COVID ours. We’re going to show them that even if everything is packaged, it’s going to be so exciting, and it’s going to be cool. It’s the energy that she and I brought to the table that really motivated them. I think the fear was gone on the first day. We followed every single COVID guidance from SAGE. In my opinion, they did a wonderful job. The first day they got here, they felt safe. The servers in the dining room who maybe wouldn’t have interacted with the children so much because they were serving themselves, now they interact completely. We’re very social with the community, but it’s forced us to interact even more and to get to know them more. The transition here at Beaver was seamless. Right now, in the dining hall, even though all the food is packaged, you can feel the energy.
Michele: I think they’re doing great for what we’re doing as far as all the packaging. Working at The Catered Affair previously, we were catering for 500 to 1,000 people at some events. I’m very familiar with plating lines. I think I set us up really well to execute the plating. We’re half capacity right now, so that makes it a little bit easier. We serve about 300. They’re doing great. They’re awesome. It’s like a well-oiled machine.
What do you love most about being part of the SAGE team at Beaver?
Shiobanne: I love the trust that the client has in us. It’s actually a beautiful thing. I love that my team is willing to try anything. I think it’s because the enthusiasm trickles down from their leaders that they’re equally as excited. They’re never scared. They’re so organized. I love that they were willing to try something new. They trusted me that I knew what I was doing and I was going to lead them in the right way. I think most of all, they’re motivated by all the feedback that we get from our community. I think for a community that was a little silent, now the love is out of control. We get so many emails. We get so many visits to our office. I like that they come and they don’t just talk to me and Michele. They go directly to my guys. They know them by name. That’s a beautiful thing. I love that they get that feedback. That’s why they deliver excellence every day.
Michele: I have a mostly female staff. It’s a change for me, because when I worked for The Catered Affair, it was mostly men. It’s a small group, and a couple of District Managers have said we have one of the smallest kitchens they’ve seen. We make it work. It’s great working with other women. I never realized until I started working for SAGE at Beaver. It’s a nice little switch-up for me.