Customer Focus: November 2014
Des Moines Public Schools Food and Nutrition Department
Executive Chef Chad Taylor
For Chad Taylor, executive chef at the Des Moines Public Schools Food and Nutrition Department, a career as a chef seemed likely from an early age. “Cooking was always a passion of mine growing up. Even school lunch—I had a fascination with it,” he says. Raised on 60 acres between Des Moines and Indianola, he enjoyed cooking with his mother and grandmother whenever he could. From a family of hobby farmers, he has raised goats, chickens and turkeys, and his family currently boards 20 horses. Taylor has a degree in Hotel/Restaurant and Institutional Management from Iowa State University, where he met his wife, Darby. After graduation, he was the club house manager for the Hyperion Field Club in Johnston. Taylor has worked for the DMPS Food and Nutrition Department since 1996, and has been executive chef since 2004.
The district’s Central Nutrition Center is based in Des Moines’ historic Colonial Bread Building. There, they run a bakery, cook/chill operation, packaging, and warehouse, serving more than 30,000 meals each day to over 60 locations districtwide. “Des Moines Public Schools is unique,” Taylor says, “in that we have such a large and diverse population. We try to meet the students’ diverse taste needs,” including different age groups and ethnic backgrounds.
DMPS is part of the School Food FOCUS Upper Midwest Regional Learning Lab, a group of several large Midwestern school districts aiming to provide healthier, more local, and more sustainably produced meals to their students. While local foods have really come to the forefront, according to Taylor, “it’s really hard to find a local farmer who can get us the quantities” the district needs. That’s where Iowa Choice Harvest comes in. Marlie Wilson, an Iowa FoodCorps Fellow, recommended that Taylor check out Iowa Choice Harvest’s Golden Sweet Corn and Iowa Grown Apples, which meet Taylor’s needs for local sourcing, are available in large quantities, and taste great, too. “They can share the food transparently,” he says, adding that Iowa Choice Harvest can tell him the farms that produced the food, “and also get me the quantities I need.”
Taylor and his staff are “trying to look at how we can influence getting better food for our schoolchildren,” he says. With assistance from Iowa FoodCorps, they have shaped a more locally-focused menu, built school gardens, and even opened a Cooking Lab at Hillis Elementary School. At Cora’s Cupboard, students and teachers can use actual food as part of their lesson—whether it’s healthy eating, science, or fractions. This year, Taylor has been serving Iowa Choice Harvest sweet corn to students. One student told him the corn was great “because it was sweet but not too sweet,” and another hoped his grandfather, a farmer, might have supplied some of the corn. “It just makes sense to get Iowa sweet corn rather than buying canned from another state,” Taylor believes. He’s also been serving an apple crisp made from Iowa Choice Harvest apples, which the students enjoy.
Taylor “can’t say enough” about the people at Iowa Choice Harvest. “They’ve gone above and beyond to make sure the students in Des Moines have the opportunity to eat local foods.” He appreciates that he can talk directly with the people who know exactly where his food comes from: “they are here for Iowans and proud of their product.” Taylor sees his relationship with Iowa Choice Harvest growing in the future, and sees the company as a partner in expanding opportunities for local foods in other school districts, as well. “If Des Moines Public Schools can do it,” he says, despite its large size, “then they can do local, too.”