11 Questions with Chef Kyle
Get to know the people behind our delicious meals
Chef Kyle is answering all the things you’ve ever wondered about food at Meadowridge (including his approach to getting kids to eat more vegetables!). Check out 11 Questions with Chef Kyle.
What recipes can students not get enough of?
Pasta Friday for sure – any kind of pasta really, but students seem to really love spaghetti and meatballs and fettuccine alfredo. They also love our chicken wings, which are baked, never fried. The salad bar is also getting more and more popular.
What about for our younger students?
It’s the same thing! They eat the same menu as the rest of our school, but we’ll create a separate or modified menu depending on the days. If the main entrée is heaving in seasoning, say, I’ll find something else for students in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 3. Right now, the big favourite is chocolate chip pancakes, grilled cheese and a new ham and cheese sandwich that they can’t seem to get enough of.
Why did you become a chef?
I started in the kitchen when I was 13 years old – labour laws were different then! I started out as a dishwasher after school, but got my start cooking after one of the pan chefs, basically a sauté station, called in sick. I really excelled with minimal training. I’ve been cooking ever since, going on 21 years now. I’ve done everything from fine dining to steak houses, catering to corporate events, even food design for magazines. I love how food evokes a community feeling, a real sense of joy.
A lot of our menu is made in-house. Which ones might surprise us to know?
Salad dressings! Every single salad dressing is made in-house, and there are new ones all the time. On any day, there are four to choose from. All our muffins and scones and baked goods are made from scratch, in-house. Those also change daily. Basically, everything in our kitchen is made from scratch, apart from the breads and any pasta noodles. All our soups, salads, sandwich meats… SAGE Dining actually has what they call a Scratch Factor, which tells us how much of our products are made in-house; we average 81%.
As both a parent and professional chef, what is your philosophy when it comes to kids and food?
It’s about getting them to try things! I have a rule at my house; my daughter can’t just say “no,” to a food. She can give me an honest answer of, “I don’t like it,” or, “I don’t care for it,” but it can’t just be “no.” So, we try things together. She actually just ate a smoked, barbequed oyster and loved it!
She may be hesitant at first, by the look, taste, or texture of something, but we have to try things. I take that same approach at school. I especially watch the Grade 4 and 5 students and encourage them to try new things. I ask them questions, encourage them to try things, and give them suggestions based on what I know they’ll like.
We have to ask – how do we get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables?
We serve fruits and vegetables every day, and give students a variety of choice throughout the week. We have simpler choices – plain, steamed, more common – and more adventurous ones, too. Yesterday, we served collard greens and chickpeas – that was popular! By providing lots of choice, kids can explore and see what they like.
Of course, our team also watches and talks the kids to make sure they’re making, and are encouraged to make, healthier choices.
Our kids really like plain, steamed broccoli. They’re used to it! It’s one of the top selling vegetables. We also now offer gochujang broccoli, which has a bit of heat. We serve garden salad in the lower school every week, and – by the end of the year – the start to like it. The more choice, the more often, the more kids will eat them.
“Being in a school lets us have personalized relationships with the children; we can encourage them to try new foods, different foods, and then they gain a confidence in the choices they make. I really like when kids come up to me and say they’ve just tried a new vegetable that they love.”
How do you deal with dietary concerns at school?
We have a system in place that allows us to make select meals for select people. We take precautionary steps to make sure that all food is safe for all children in our community. One of the things I’m most proud of is SAGE’s allergen filter, which allows students and their families to manage their own dietary restrictions by looking at the menu – including all ingredients and potential allergens – from home, or on the day-of.
Meadowridge is a nut-aware school, but we here at SAGE Dining do not serve peanuts or tree nuts in our kitchen. All vendors must undergo an operating standards test to ensure safe handling, storage, processing and packaging of its items and meets SAGE’s standards of trace labeling.
How do you get creative with recipes at home?
Our kitchen is a test food kitchen, meaning we are picked to test out recipes that have been submitted by SAGE chefs, approved by our dieticians, and are now undergoing testing for quality and enjoyment. The SAGE recipe database has over 16,000 recipes, and I’ve actually submitted and have had approved a dozen or so recipes, like lamb pot pie. I experiment a lot at home, especially on the weekends.
What sustainability initiatives are you most proud of that the cafeteria has taken on?
I think working in the gardens with the kids, actually using the produce that they’re growing out in the gardens. We just harvested some potatoes and will be using those in a recipe soon. I like that it shows kids where food comes from; it gets them involved in food in a real way.
What’s your favourite part about working at the school?
Getting kids to try new foods, getting to know them… it’s fun. Being in a school lets us have personalized relationships with the children; we can encourage them to try new foods, different foods, and then they gain a confidence in the choices they make. I really like when kids come up to me and say they’ve just tried a new vegetable that they love.
What’s your best cooking secret?
Keep things simple: fresh ingredients, properly cooked, and season well. Check out local farmer’s markets and see what products grown locally and in season. Nothing beats farm fresh!