Chef on board
CUSD welcomes trained chef as new director of Nutrition Services
Vince Enserro, the Chico Unified School District’s new director of Nutrition Services, comes with qualifications that poise him to be just what the district needs in this time of tight budgets combined with increasingly vocal demands from parents and local food activists for better nutritional choices for students.
For starters, Enserro has a number of years of experience in public-school nutrition services, having worked as assistant director of nutrition for the Corona-Norco Unified School District in Southern California from 1999 to 2003, and as director of nutrition for the past year and a half—until starting at Chico Unified in late June—for central Arizona’s Chino Valley Unified School District.
In between his school-nutrition stints, Enserro worked in Arizona as a general manager for national chain restaurant Texas Roadhouse.
On top of that, the friendly 40-year-old is a certified executive chef: Enserro has a culinary arts degree from Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore. (now called Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts), and spent a decade working as a country club/resort chef in Southern California before going into school food-service.
“I’m just excited, really excited,” said Enserro, who arrived in Chico from Arizona a little more than two weeks ago with his wife, Hollis, and their three sons, ages 7, 15 and 17.
Enserro is working closely with Tanya Harter—who served for nearly four years as the CUSD’s interim director of Nutrition Services and now returns to her former position as the district’s nutrition specialist—to get up to speed on “where they’re at—programs, events, expectations.”
Food-wise, Harter and Enserro will be taking a look at such things as whether chocolate milk will remain on the CUSD menu, and how they might increase the amount of local produce served in school cafeterias.
Enserro is excited about the upcoming renovation of Chico High School’s cafeteria and kitchen—due to start next spring and take approximately 15 months to complete. The project will result in a food-court-like eating area with roll-up glass doors that is “very free-flowing, very much like a college atmosphere,” he said.
The new high-school cafeteria will offer students a range of healthful dining choices— Mexican, Italian, Asian, American grill and salads—served from individual windows according to type of food, and carried to a common dining area.
Enserro believes the new setup will encourage students to stay on campus, rather than go off campus to downtown eateries—a move that will help bring much-needed money to the district. He found this to be true after implementing a similar program of increased, more-sophisticated meal choices at the high-school level at the Chino Valley USD.
“In high school, kids really want to get their food and go sit down and talk with their friends,” he said. “More windows will mean a shorter line; they’ll have their lunch in a few minutes.”
Enserro said he and Harter are going to reevaluate future school-lunch menus at all CUSD schools. The district currently has a menu set to run through September.
Across the board, Enserro wants to “make the food healthier, but ‘brand’ our food to the kids to make it exciting. I think it’s one thing I really enjoy about this job: I get to think on their level.” Food consistency and good service are of the utmost importance for ensuring return customers, said Enserro, expressing lessons he learned from his chain-restaurant days.
He plans to implement student-centered “food-focus” groups at each CUSD school, similar to what he did in Arizona, where he “asked principals to give me the most diverse group of kids you can find.”
“I explain to them, ‘This is a business. These are the parameters; these are the dollars we are working with,’ ” Enserro said. “They know they can’t have lobster or steak, but we get their feedback.”
Enserro—who was responsible at Chino Valley USD for such improvements as axing chocolate milk that contained high-fructose corn syrup in favor of chocolate milk without HFCS, and improving the quality of the processed-chicken nuggets—is brainstorming with Harter about “serving the best quality product that we can,” within USDA guidelines and given budget limitations.
“The biggest thing is the amount of money you have to spend on meals—it’s crazy,” said Enserro. “You really do have pennies to work with. … You can only cut so many places—you have to increase sales.”