Fulton High School Head Cook Debbie “Cookie” Cossman does not stand still at her job.
Debbie has worked at the high school for 23 years. She started as a part-time member of the cleaning staff. Twelve years ago, she was asked to become the head cook when the previous head cook retired. Debbie said at first she was nervous about taking the position. She did not cook much, allowing her husband to do most of the cooking at home. However, she thought it sounded fun and she liked the hours and time off during the summer months.
Debbie works from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. each school day. She said the first thing she does is check the temperatures for the coolers and freezers before getting everything ready for breakfast. Thursday morning the breakfast was simple — cereal, toast and juice. Approximately 20 students ate breakfast at the school. Debbie said this varies depending on what is being served.
This year, the high school’s lunch periods have changed. Previously students were in one of three lunch periods. This year, only two lunch periods are being held. Debbie said this change is really great for the cafeteria staff. They now have an extra half hour each morning to get ready for lunch. Thursday morning she cooks 20 pounds of hamburger in her large cooker and starts cooking potatoes and vegetables for homemade soup.
By 9:30 a.m., Debbie has made fresh bread for the a la carte deli sandwiches. Last year the cafeteria featured a salad bar. However, Debbie said the students did not visit it a lot and much of the produce was wasted. Instead of a salad bar, that area now features fresh deli sandwiches, melon, vegetables and dip, apples and dip, pretzels, large cookies and other items.
The lunch period also features two primary lunch lines. Students can choose from the two planned meals. They can also visit the a la carte line. Thursday’s meal choices are grilled chicken with waffle fries or cavatini.
Debbie bounces from station to station to get everything ready. Once the hamburger is cooked, Debbie removes it from the cooker to begin making the cavatini. Debbie described cavatini as a pasta dish with hamburger and pepperoni. She pours equal portions of the meat into three large pans filled part way with pasta sauce. Each pan provides 50 servings of cavatini. One pan will be covered to go back in the warmer. The other two pans will be prepared for the first lunch period.
Another one of the workers discovers they do not have any good lettuce for a salad. Debbie and the other worker decide to serve mixed vegetables instead. She said sometimes they just have to go to plan B.
Debbie turns on her oven for the waffle fries. Then she moves to the stove to work on her potato soup. In a small pot she mixes butter, flour, milk and garlic salt to thicken the soup. Once it has cooked and thickened, she adds it to the main soup pot. She also adds some chicken stock to the soup.
While waiting for some water to boil for the pasta, Debbie prepares five trays of waffle fries and six dozen chicken breasts. The trays go back in the warmer. Debbie said she likes the food to be as fresh as possible, so she will wait a bit longer to cook the items.
Cavatini consists of three pastas, macaroni, spaghetti and rotini. Debbie measures the rotini and the macaroni. She then breaks up the spaghetti into small pieces. Once the pasta is cooked, it will be added to the cavatini pans.
Debbie adds American cheese to her soup. She said she can never add too much cheese. She tastes the soup to make sure it is good. She takes the pot over to the sink and pours the soup into another container. The soup is then placed on the line.
Draining the cooked pasta of water, Debbie then adds it to the cavatini pan. After it is completely mixed, she adds a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella cheese to the dish. Debbie said a full pan probably weighs 50 pounds, so another employee helps her lift the pan into the oven. She then starts another batch of pasta for the other pan of cavatini.
A few minutes before the 11:27 a.m. lunch period, two pans of cavatini are cut and ready for the line. Fries are in the line and more are in the oven. Chicken breasts are cooked and buns have been placed on the line next to them. Once the bell rings, students and staff begin lining up and Debbie starts making chicken sandwiches to hand to those in her line.