Lunch with Lynch: Behind South’s Cafeteria


Photo Courtesy of Thomas Lynch.

A brief glimpse into how South High’s kitchen prepares chicken for thousands of students.

Richard Zhuang

Hundreds of servings of fries and chicken nuggets are laid out on a tray before being baked in the oven. At another station, a chef as-sembles vegetables, grilled chicken, and sliced tomatoes into a fresh salad, while another chef slices bread and bagels. The last chef prepares the staple school lunch, pizza, by adding tomato sauce and cheese to a fresh piece of dough. This “well-oiled machine,” as described by lunch manager Tom Lynch, is none other than the cafeteria staff preparing lunch for both South Middle and South High. There are many moving parts, but thanks to the experience of Lynch and the well-trained employees, the cafeteria runs smoothly each day to serve anywhere from hundreds to thousands of meals for hungry students. “We start the ovens, then one-by-one employees come in—some will make the sandwiches, some will do the fruits, and some will do the pizza. Everyone has a job assigned to them, and the wonderful thing is that they all know how to do each job,” Lynch says.

A lot of work goes into maintaining the quality, freshness, and nutrition of the food. First, all of the food that Lynch receives must be up-to-standard. “We get an assortment of suppliers. Some come from the government, and we also purchase a lot. But everything is in this country: we try to do everything as locally as we can and have a variety of different places where we get  our food from.”

After receiving the food, Lynch and the staff formulate meals to serve to students. All meals must follow the guidelines of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA states that a healthy school lunch must meet the caloric requirement for students—around 850 calories for high schoolers—and consists of five essential components: grains, protein, milk, fruits, and vegetables. “We have a nutritionist in our office who goes through everything,” Lynch explains. “We have to make sure the sodium, fat, and sugar levels are all maintained. We then come up with a plan to make a meal that fits into that criteria.”

Once the food has been received and the meals are designed, the next step is to cook all of the food for South High students, ranging from pizza and salad to cherry blossom chicken and dumplings. Lynch always makes sure that the food is freshly served to students immediately after it is cooked. “We don’t come in at 7 o’clock and make everything, and by 9 o’clock it’s sitting there until lunchtime,” Lynch says. “[The food] is freshly made for you guys, and it tastes a lot better.”

The only thing greater than the volume of meals served each day to South Middle and South High is Tom’s passion for his craft. Having worked at many restaurants for over 20 years, Lynch is an experienced chef who puts his heart into serving healthy, delicious food for students. “I always had a love for cooking. My mom had a restaurant when I was a kid, and I worked there. I’ve always worked with food: I found my little niche with upscale delicatessens and gourmet shops, and that’s where I worked.” But Lynch realized that he especially loved working with kids, which is why he transitioned to the school cafeteria. “I like interacting with the kids. I like to see the smiles on their faces, and I thoroughly love making sure that they are getting a

good quality meal.” Tom’s extensive culinary experience also gave him insights into preparing meals for South High students. “I know how it should look, how the food should taste, and how it should be presented.”

Lynch is extremely flexible with the lunch menu and is open to suggestions for new meals. “Just contact me! We’ll see what we can do—a lot of different things we’re doing now come from students who requested certain things.” Over the past few years, the cafeteria added Boar’s Head sandwiches, dumplings, fried rice, french toast, burgers, fries, and pepperoni pizza to the menu, which were all requested by students. 

Cafeteria food often gets a bad rap, but Lynch is challenging that stereotype meal by meal with his passion for making delicious food for students. While Lynch definitely plays a significant role in running the kitchen, he is especially grateful for the rest of the staff, who are also integral to the kitchen’s success. “It’s a blessing because we’ve got really good people who work here, and they all step in.”