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Chef Lisa Brings Holistic Approach to Food Program

Calhoun's food program, originally conceived and crafted by Chef Bobo nearly twenty years ago, revolutionized how schools in New York and across the country think about lunch. Following Chef Bobo's retirement at the end of last year, Lisa Locke was hired as our new Director of Food Services and Executive Chef. We sat down with Lisa to learn more about her background and her goals for the future of the school's food program. 

Lisa Locke had dreamed of becoming a chef since she was sixteen years old in rural Montana. At her mother’s urging, she began on a more practical route—getting her degree in nutrition and immersing herself in the science behind the food we eat. She delved deeper into the discipline as a registered dietician at a hospital and later as a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Kinesiology Department. She enjoyed the work, but at every lunch break, she “was pouring over cookbooks and planning out [her] next meal…longing to be a chef.” With her teenage dream in mind, she eventually packed her bags, moved to New York City and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute. “I was in heaven and loved every minute of it,” she writes. After graduating at the top of her class, Lisa worked in fine dining restaurants around the city, before realizing she could combine all of her interests—cooking, science and nutrition—into one. She spent six years as executive chef and food services director at the Metropolitan Montessori School, before coming to Calhoun in August 2021.

Lisa takes a holistic approach when it comes to cooking, and she puts great emphasis on the sourcing and the quality of the ingredients she uses. Tracing back to her days at the University of Michigan, she has a “lifelong passion for nutrition and food as it relates to athletics and fitness.” A classical Russian ballet dancer and avid runner, Lisa looks at food as fuel for our bodies and understands the impact eating the right food can have on athletic performance and day-to-day well-being. With this connection in mind, she prioritizes “thoughtful and meticulous sourcing,” believing great ingredients equal delicious, nutritious meals. Lisa has long-standing relationships with area vendors like Greenmarket, and she was excited to partner with Lancaster Farms in Pennsylvania, a co-op of organic and transitional farmers, as one of Calhoun’s new primary vendors. She has big plans for Calhoun, including organizing trips to local farms, bringing in guest speakers, partnering with Athletics and other departments, and teaching students more about nutrition and wellness. 

In her first months on the job, Lisa has delighted in using seasonal and local produce as the inspiration for the meals she and her team create—everything from kid-friendly classics like macaroni and cheese, to more culturally diverse offerings like black bean chilaquiles. She follows Calhoun’s unique system for menu creation, allowing each of the food program’s five chefs to develop two weeks’ worth of meals. They bring “their own techniques, flavors and background to their menus,” which she describes as “an incredible opportunity to learn new things and taste new dishes.” The team works hard to offer a diverse menu with options that accommodate all allergies and dietary restrictions—one of the more challenging aspects of planning a menu, she admits. Serving 650 students and staff is a monumental task, particularly with product and labor shortages that have recently dominated the food industry. This keeps her and her team on their toes, and can lead to last-minute menu changes, but Lisa maintains her commitment to sourcing the best local products she can find and turning them into nutritious meals.

Lisa, who has recently been engrossed in Indian food and Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbooks, savors the tastes and aromas she and her team cook up. She aims to lead by example and prioritizes being “on the line” every day and seeing the faces of Calhoun. She truly values cooking for a community that appreciates good food, and is full of “the most brutally honest critics—kids.” Lisa considers herself lucky to have stepped into Calhoun’s well-established food program, and with her background in nutrition and emphasis on quality sourcing, she has brought her own spin to the lunch line already. In everything that she does, Lisa demonstrates how the food chain connects us all—from the local farmers who grow the produce, to the chefs who design a meal around it, to the Calhoun students who use it as fuel for their growing bodies and minds.

Follow Chef Lisa’s blog to learn more about her different initiatives and view the weekly menu.