After 20 years of feeding kids, Jack Carroll to hang up his apron

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Jack Carroll, ready for another lunch service last Friday. Photos by Cynthia Prairie

When Jack Carroll, class of 1969, joined a walkout at Chester High School, marching to the Green to encourage the town to pass the bond to build Green Mountain High, he could scarcely imagine he would later spend 20 years running the school cafeteria in the proposed building.

This June, that tenure of planning and creating meals for hundreds of hungry kids will come to an end as Carroll retires.

But that’s months away, and on a recent Pizza Friday, when there would soon be upwards of 175 students to feed,  Carroll’s crew at Food and Nutritional Services was putting the finishing touches on their stations. Carroll points to the offerings:  “grab and go” choices aside from the pizza, including chicken patties, steak and cheese sandwiches and an extensive salad bar.

“We try to make it easy. We want to get them a meal and it can be hard to get them to eat,” says Carroll, noting that things have changed over the years. “It’s become so fast-paced, everybody’s in a hurry. Nobody wants a piece of roast chicken anymore.”

The call to serve

Students build their salads while Carroll serves a freshly prepared hot sandwich.

While not formally trained as a chef, “I had done a lot of catering and working in restaurants and in 1999 I had a deli in Benny’s Sunoco,” says Carroll. “That’s when I was approached by then Superintendent Ed Brown to see if I wanted to run the kitchen here.” He also worked in food service while in the Army.

“Joe Tourigney – you know him as (the silversmith) Mountain Man – trained me through the end of that school year and, three years later, they asked me to take over Chester-Andover’s food service. I’ve been managing both ever since,” says Carroll.

Doing it right takes a lot of planning, Carroll explains, and that includes record-keeping to avoid making too much food. “We keep charts of how we do, how many portions of each we sell. After 20 years, you can look back and get a pretty good idea of what to make,  although sometimes the kids will throw you a curve. But we never run out of food.” Currently, the student favorites are pizza and his steak and cheese sandwich, which a number of GM students said they were really happy to see being served.

A collection of school ID cards from about half of his tenure covers Carroll’s desk.

“We work closely with the state on portions and nutrition and we’re a member of the School Food Service Directors Association,” says Carroll.  The association acts as a buying coop with 170 members, which reduces spending by putting a food contract out to bid every three years. Carroll manages a budget of $262,245 which includes five – mostly part time – employees. The bulk, $150,000, goes to food costs the two schools.

Carroll is proud of a number of the things he’s accomplished on the job, including redoing the entire kitchen and keeping a loyal, long-term staff — Karla Hundson and Beth Connor. He says he’s had only five staff members the entire time.  And Carroll has an especially soft spot for the kids who represent Green Mountain in the Jr. Iron Chef competition each year.

“We’ll have four teams this year,” says Carroll pointing to photos of competitors from past years including a number of winning teams. The teams practice in the school kitchen and the food service budget includes a small amount of money to support the program.

What’s next?

Lonnie Lisai (of Lisai’s Market) has already asked me to work for him,” laughs Carroll, when the inevitable question comes up.  “I’ll putter around and work some, maybe help out here and maybe do a little carpentry. And we have a house in the North East Kingdom. We’ll spend more time up there.”

Leaving is not without some sadness for Carroll. “I love the kids, I love the work and I’ve been lucky to have had my own domain and live close to both my schools,” says Carroll. “But I’ll be 68 in June and it’s time to retire.”

‘I’ve known most of these kids since grade school,’ says Carroll.

“It will be tough, but I have six months to re-adjust,” he says.

While he’ll no longer be cooking at school, he’ll continue his culinary adventures at home, where, he says, he cooks “a lot,” and enjoys experimenting with marinades.

He mentions his “clean out the refrigerator” marinade, which he made just this weekend. “Worcestershire sauce, molasses, garlic, teriyaki, barbecue sauce, a little sugar and salt and pepper. Then marinate the steak for seven hours before grilling…. I grill year-round,” he says.

As to what’s next for food service at the school, Carroll says he was asked to serve on the search committee for his replacement and he sees the program continuing much as it is today. Carroll acknowledges that from time to time the idea of using a food service contractor comes up but he doesn’t think it’s a great idea.

“They would be here to make a profit, we aren’t,” says Carroll. “We’re here to feed kids. I’ve known most of these kids since grade school.”

“Anyone want a steak and cheese?” Carroll calls out as he turns to a gaggle of students checking out the choices. “I’ll build you what you want.”

 

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  1. Ellen McCullough says:

    Thank you, Jack for all your hard work and delicious food … I don’t live in Chester now, but I sure recall your wonderful sandwiches and desserts…thank you for feeding our kids as well. MB I’ll see you up in the NE Kingdom; I had land up there on Mt. Pisgah and when I return to Vermont, I go there.

    Ellen McCullough

  2. Marilee Spanjian says:

    I had the pleasure of working with Jack on Jr. Iron Chef. Very kind man. Big heart for the students. Congratulations Jack on your retirement.

  3. Carol Gilbert says:

    Jack Carroll

    You were without a doubt the best food service provider I have ever had the pleasure to work with!

    You had a remarkable ability to make everyone who came in contact with you feel valued and respected — students, staff, parents and community members included.

    There was never a time when a “can do” turned into a “can’t do” and we had a lot of opportunities for that to happen! I wish you well as you retire but also know that you will be sorely missed and so very hard to replace.

    Thank you for being an integral part of my team. Thank you for being an extraordinarily compassionate food educator. And the very best to you and your family as you begin a new adventure! P.S.
    My personal favorite was your spaghetti and meat sauce…yummm!

    Carol Gilbert

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