Food service chief Leslie Floyd steps up to the plates

On every school day, Leslie Floyd, the new food service director for Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS), makes sure that 700 meals are planned, cooked, delivered, and served. But beyond that daunting task, what’s most important to her is that students like what they eat and enjoy the experience.

Ms. Floyd stepped up to the plates at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) on October 4. Former director Rick Akerley retired on September 24 from his job with Chartwells, the MVPS food service management contractor, after running operations in the high school cafeteria for 20 years. His wife Rebecca, who worked as Chartwells’ chef at the high school for many years, retired shortly after he did.

With the school year already in full swing, Chartwells regional manager Gail Oliveira took Mr. Akerley’s place until she hired Ms. Floyd and stayed on to help her for a short time. Ms. Floyd never had a chance to meet Mr. Akerley, though, nor learn the ropes from him, so she hit the kitchen running and met the challenges head-on.

“I couldn’t have done it without my team — they’ve put up with quite a bit,” Ms. Floyd said. The staff includes new chef Paul Sardini, Joyce Boyd, Beverly Bergeron, Kim Baker, and Pamela Spencer.

Food service ingredients

Chartwells provides food service at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), West Tisbury School, and Chilmark School. Chartwells has managed the MVPS food service since 1992. The company’s current three-year contract expires at the end of fiscal year 2011.

School business administrator Amy Tierney said the MVPS food service bid is slated to go out in February, after review by a committee. The bid document sets a price per lunch, which Ms. Tierney said would undoubtedly go up in the next contract. Currently students pay $2.25 and adults $3.26.

The high school has a breakfast program, which serves about 50 students every day, and five 20-minute lunch periods a day. There is a hot meal line, as well as sandwiches, a salad bar, and a la carte items such as soup, fruit, and side dishes.

Food for the West Tisbury and Chilmark schools, which don’t have kitchens, is prepared at the high school, put into containers, and transported by van at around 9:30 am.

“The average number of meals per hour for a lunch worker is 18, and we do 22, at least,” Ms. Floyd pointed out. “And one of my team, Kim, is the one who leaves and drives the food up-Island, so for about three hours a day, I’m down a worker.”

Chilmark School receives about 10-12 cold meals a day, usually box lunches. West Tisbury School has steam bins available for hot meals and about 90 to 136 meals are served a day. Two Chartwells employees work there this year to do prep work and heat and serve food.

Servings for 700

“It’s been a huge learning curve for me, not only putting out 700 meals a day, but also learning about the Federal nutritional standards,” Ms. Floyd said. She found the Chartwells website provided a valuable resource for approved meals and recipes and helped her retool some of her own recipes for use in a school setting.

“It helps me plan how many portions, and know what constitutes a meal for the Federal government,” Ms. Floyd said. “There are certain portion sizes for different age levels.”

“What we’ve found, though, is some students complain that it’s not enough food, because they’re used to getting enormous portions of food,” she added. “So it’s a matter of retraining the children, as well, about what a proper portion is. I’ve dealt with more complaints about that than anything else.”

To take the focus off quantity, she said it helps to make smaller portions look more appealing.

Ms. Floyd also has discovered the regional differences in tastes among the Island’s student populations.

“At the West Tisbury School, I can’t even send white bread up there,” Ms. Floyd said. “Everything has to be wheat, special greens — the kids request it. That’s their preference, and I love seeing that.”

Ms. Floyd already has made some changes that proved a success. After she added prepared salads to the menu choices, she said, “I went from making 12 salads a day when I started, to making about 50.”

Try it, you might like it

One of Ms. Floyd’s goals is to expose students to as many different types of food as she can and use as many locally grown ingredients as possible, within her budget. She said she was shocked one day when she made spinach and bacon salads with hard-boiled eggs, and they all sold.

When it comes to fighting the food boredom factor or enticing students to try something new, Ms. Floyd recognizes the importance of salesmanship.

“For example, we had Paul’s mother’s meatloaf recipe and his grandmother’s Boston baked beans recipe, so we put ‘Mama Sardini’s meatloaf’ and ‘Grandma Sardini’s Boston baked beans’ on the menu, which sounds more appealing,” she said. “The other day, we got a new Panini press and just made ham and cheese, but they were going out so fast, we couldn’t even keep up. But just the word ‘Panini’ — if I called it grilled cheese and ham, they would have just shrugged.”

Although specialty homemade soups like one made of butternut squash, apple, and pear might be on the a la carte menu, Ms. Floyd makes sure students can also count on old favorites, with pizza day on Wednesday and chicken nuggets one Friday a month.

“I keep telling kids, tell me what you want,” she said, adding, “And then I also tell them, I can’t make everybody happy.”

What students want

As a new member of the high school’s Wellness Committee, Ms. Floyd was given copies of a food survey the committee conducted last year. She already met with three girls on the Student Council and asked for their suggestions.

So far, Ms. Floyd has learned that students would like more vegetarian options, different varieties of yogurt, wheat bagels, sparkling water, and fruit smoothies. The Student Council members also expressed interest in having nutritional information posted. Ms. Floyd said she and Ms. Oliveira are working on that.

“The most important thing students want is some sort of food available after school, before going to sports,” Ms. Floyd said. “I’m hoping to work with the Wellness Committee on that. Labor-wise, it would be impossible for me to stay open, but my thought was that if we could get a refrigerated vending machine, then I could package salads or sandwiches to put in it so they’ll have some access to proper, nutritionally balanced food.”

Home on the range

In the meantime, Ms. Floyd said she feels more comfortable in her job every day. Although new to school food service, she has been a private chef and a pastry chef at the Edgartown Yacht Club, and worked at Island restaurants including Atria and Slice of Life. She was the chef for The FARM Institute’s Meals in the Meadow fundraiser a few years ago and chairman of this year’s event.

The culinary profession is a second career for Ms. Floyd, age 46. She graduated from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in international marketing, and has worked in real estate off and on since age 23 with her mother, Ann Floyd, at Sandcastle Realty in Edgartown. She remains the broker for the Edgartown Residents’ Club.

Ms. Floyd decided to pursue her interest in cooking and completed a two-year program at the New England Culinary Institute in 2003. Although she lived all over New England while growing up, her Island roots trace back to the Pease family, a familiar name among Edgartown landmarks. Since she spent all her childhood summers on Martha’s Vineyard and considered it her home, she moved back to the Island full-time after culinary school.

Ms. Floyd also has ties to the high school. Her grandfather, Sherman Hoar, taught history there after he retired from the CIA, and she has a nephew who currently attends the school.

Despite working with food all day, Ms. Floyd still likes to cook at home. “It’s relaxing to me,” she said. “Even as hectic as it gets here, it’s what I love to do.”