Have you ever wondered what it takes to manage the CCMOW kitchen? We sat down with Jason, CCMOW's Head Chef, to talk about day-to-day activities, managing a kitchen team, and all the hard work that goes into preparing over 250 meals each day.
Jason is a Food Service expert bringing over three decades of experience in menu planning, kitchen management, food safety, cooking, and catering to CCMOW. Prior to joining the CCMOW team, Jason served as the Kitchen Lead for the Boulder Valley School District where he led all aspects of the district’s kitchen operations. Jason is originally from Northridge, California, lived and went to school in the redwoods of northern California, and has lived in Boulder County since 1998. In his spare time, Jason enjoys cooking, hiking, spending time with cats, listening to music, reading literature and history, and watching “Star Trek”.
How is the menu created?
CCMOW creates two menus: the Monthly Delivery Menu and the Weekly Coal Creek Café Menu.
The Monthly Delivery Menu gets written first, with the first draft due by the 10th of the prior month. This draft is shared with the entire CCMOW team for everyone to review and provide feedback. I continue to make revisions until we release the final menu, usually on the last Monday of the month. I will normally begin working on the next month's menu during this time as well.
When creating the Monthly Delivery Menu, I try to take into account things such as seasonality; availability & price; what product (donated or purchased) is currently on hand; balance of protein types and cuisines week to week & throughout the month; and knowledge of clients' likes & dislikes. I also plan so that what we are cooking is efficient for the flow of the kitchen. For example, I usually plan faster cooking/easier to execute items on Mondays (since we are closed over the weekend and no prep is being done). I will schedule longer cooking or more intensive items (brisket, pulled pork, etc.) later in the week so we have time to execute them properly.
I typically start with a blank template of the month and fill it in with client favorites that we run monthly and with menu options utilizing product on hand. Then I fill in the blanks with either new menu items or items we do not run as frequently to achieve a balanced menu.
We work very hard to accommodate all of our clients' dietary restrictions and preferences, including providing soft cut and pureed meals.
The weekly Coal Creek Café Menu, which is due the Friday prior of the week in question, is a direct result of the Meal Delivery Menu. If we are serving meatloaf and mashed potatoes for the Meal Delivery Program, we will also serve meatloaf and mashed potatoes in the café that day. We always have a vegetarian option, which is typically a variation of the main meat option, though sometimes we run something that is different (i.e. BBQ Chicken/BBQ Tofu or Herbed Fish Filet/Moroccan Vegetable Couscous with Chickpeas). Additionally, we run a “Chef’s Special” daily. This option is left open and not determined until the day of service, which allows us to best utilize product on hand. I usually have these planned out in a general way, but leave them open so that we can incorporate donated product as they come in. A chef's salad is also available each day at the Coal Creek Café, which is served with homemade dressing and rolls.
Donated products come from a variety of places. We have a long-standing partnership with Community Food Share and receive weekly donations from their warehouse. We also receive food donations from the community, ranging from produce from a personal garden to full beef donations from the County Fair.
What does a day in the CCMOW kitchen look like?
A typical day in the kitchen starts between 5:00 and 5:15 a.m. I open the computer and check messages while I get dressed to cook. Then I check the temperatures on all the refrigerators and freezers, turn on all the cooking and holding equipment and ensure everything is working properly. I turn on the dish machine and make sure it is functioning, fill up our manual dish washing sinks, setup our supplies for cleaning and sanitation, and check the ice machine. Then I am ready to start cooking the day’s entrees.
Staff filter in between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. Michelle, our Sous Chef, arrives within that window, makes the salad and dressing of the day, starts on desserts and sides, and helps with the daily meal pack out, as necessary. Dani, our Prep Cook, arrives at 7:00 a.m. She makes the Chef’s Salads and then starts packing out the day's salads and desserts for meal deliveries. Additional staff and volunteers support with kitchen operations, depending on the needs for that day.
The goal is to have cold sides packed and ready to deliver, with hot entrees and sides standing by, ready to be packed, by 9:00 a.m. Dani oversees the packing of the hot meals, ensuring all dietary restrictions are met, starting between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m., with a goal of having the hot meals packed no later than 10:15 a.m.
Once the daily pack out is complete, we assess how much food is left and what is needed for the café, also known as “second service." If more cooking/food prep is needed, it is done at this time. Otherwise, the kitchen is cleaned and we move on to prep for the following day(s). Prep continues throughout the late morning/early afternoon, while the staff and volunteers serve food for the café between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Washing and putting away dishes, as well as general cleaning and taking out trash, continue throughout the day. Generally, cooking and prep will be winding down by the time the café closes, with the goal of having all dishes done and put away, closing the kitchen by 1:00 p.m. Overall, the kitchen remains a busy environment.
Whenever time and product allow, we also focus on packaging frozen meals. This happens Monday through Wednesday, with salads and desserts prepared on Thursdays for the weekend frozen deliveries.
What do you like most about working in the CCMOW kitchen?
What I like most about working with CCMOW is that, when I go home, no matter how difficult the day may have been, I know we have fed and have made a positive impact upon many people in our community.