Behind big bites — Lynbrook’s kitchen staff serve love


Photo by Katie Chin

One can catch glimpses of Lynbrook’s culinary staff through the steam of the kitchen.

Emily Pedroza, Features Editor

As students filter into campus to start their mornings, figures in the kitchen move under bright lights, curating brunch displays and cleaning counters. Supplying Lynbrook’s students with fuel and warmth from food, Lynbrook’s kitchen staff work to keep our campus lively. 

Food Service Manager: Lit by the glow of his computer, Tom Fernandez scours over data, fingers flipping over keys, arms brushing paperwork. He acts as a bridge between the district and kitchen staff, and oversees ordering fresh produce delivery and supplies, data from food sales and more. 

Fernandez’s day starts before the sun rises at 6:30 a.m., when he tackles setting up Point of Sale (POS) systems, which are used to track orders and collect student data, before stocking all milk and cart items. While staff members filter in, he focuses on everyday paperwork, like meal count reports. 

“I have a great crew to work with,” Fernandez said. “I’m just here to answer questions and help them out in any way I can.”

He has been a chef for 40 years, starting with washing dishes at his brother’s bar, his first introduction to food service. From there, he went to the Culinary Academy in San Francisco. After cooking at a variety of restaurants and hotels, he was assigned to Lynbrook. 

“The most rewarding part of working here is nourishing the students and making it easy for them to learn,” Fernandez said. “The biggest challenge is that we don’t know how many students are coming for a certain service, so we kind of have to guess the amount to prepare. Sometimes we underestimate, and sometimes we overestimate and have too much food.”

When the day is over, he sets up the donation of leftover food to Peninsula Food Runners, who come twice a week, and distribute the food to community organizations that feed clients in need.

Food Service Assistants: Deborah Yeung, Cindy Brown, Helene Quinonez, Roana Leung and April Shen play a crucial role in daily operations. Often refilling fruit baskets, they design all displays and work to keep counters clean. They handle many behind-the-scenes tasks like filling the paper napkin, utensil and condiment dispensers while balancing tasks in the kitchen, subbing in for baker Santa Gurrola when she’s absent. 

Inspired by her love of cooking food for her children, Yeung decided to apply for the Food Service Assistant role at Lynbrook.

 “I’m a mother of three,” said Yeung. “I come to work for the students, they’re like my kids. We’re trying hard to feed them good, healthy food.”

Before working at Lynbrook, Quinonez worked as a caregiver, cooking in hospital settings and for events at Levi’s Stadium. 

“There’s so much variety of responsibilities; I have to make a list of them,” Quinonez said. “The one major challenge is keeping a stable headcount, to try and keep the numbers of students consistent.”

Working as a substitute between two schools, Leung works part-time, after her retirement in 2019. Her role in food service was inspired by her father and brother, who both were chefs in the Hong Kong military. As her children attended events, she helped volunteer in big kitchens, like a Hi-Tea stall and Chinese New Year’s celebration meals. Even though she retired, she found joy in working in the culinary industry, wanting to keep working. 

“It’s cool to see more students coming to the cafeteria because of our expanded menus — now we have Indian, Chinese, Mexican and Italian cuisines,” Leung said. “I love seeing students grow over the years in high school. 

Baker and Cook: Every day Gurrola arrives at work, dusting metal counters with flour and kneading dough. Her favorite item to make is their chicken masala, a blend of turmeric-based curry blanketing yellow rice. Gurrola originally got into the food service around 2011, this year marking her 12th year in the kitchen. While originally drawn to the job because of its flexibility and to provide for her daughters, it soon bloomed into a passion. 

“At the beginning, it was because I needed to work, but when I started working, I really enjoyed it,” Gurrola said. “I love serving you guys and being around the kids.” 

She came to Lynbrook four years after working in the Santa Clara District, moving through the districts. 

“We have to prepare in advance for more students than we were used to before the pandemic, but there’s not a day where I get up, open my eyes, and say, ‘I gotta go to work,’” Gurrola said. “There’s nothing I dislike about the job, everything is in place; we have a great manager and a great team.” 

She handles every lunch item, preparing fresh lunch items like salads and classics such as pizza. Despite FUHSD guidelines for menu items, the staff members find new ways to experiment, like adding garlic to breadsticks and re-opening salad bars after their closure due to the pandemic. 

“We prepare these dishes with so much love, so when we try out new menu items, it’s disappointing when the kids don’t want to try it,” Gurrola said. “Just keep coming to the cafeteria.” 

Student Workers: Juniors Lily Fang, Casey Fung, Cherie Zhou, and freshman Deanna Marie Quinonez and Caitlin Zhou dedicate their time before school, brunch and lunch to help food service run smoothly. They can often be seen crafting parfaits, manning registers and distributing food across hot plates.  

“This was my first food industry-based job,” Fang said. “It’s been nice because all the staff are really friendly and you’re not alone.” 

With flexible schedules, most choose when they want to show up, a common time being 7 a.m. before school starts. Working for $17.95 per hour, most students chose the job because of its low transportation time, as they can just work before and during school. Some find the lunch shift refreshing after a mentally rigorous day. 

“It’s gratifying,” Fung said. “When I go there, it’s usually really manual, repetitive tasks, so I can put on music and relax.” 

Zhou originally joined the kitchen staff to see if she wanted to pursue the culinary industry. With more work experience, she hopes to better understand if food services is something she wants to pursue in the future.

“I just really like exploring different foods and love cooking for others,” Zhou said. “But I also know how hard the job is for lunch ladies, so be nice to them.”