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Ansley cooks deal with kitchen challenge

October 21, 2011

Luanne Wiese and Renee Lenstrom are the new cooks at Ansley Public Schools, and with the school kitchen under construction these newcomers to the school lunchroom are having to use the home-ec kitchen to prepare the students’ meals.

ANSLEY - - When new renovations and construction began at Ansley School, little did everyone realize they would be losing their kitchen. Soon after that, they would lose their cooks too.
But prayers would be answered and two new cooks would start work before the new school year. The two newly hired cooks, Luanne Wiese and Renee Lenstrom, didn’t quite realize what they were getting themselves into.
Construction of a new gymnasium and lunchroom also meant that the old school kitchen had to go. Left with no place to cook, everything had to be moved to the home economics classroom, the only other place in the school with ovens.
Unfortunately, the home ec room is short on space, consistently working ovens, proper refrigeration, or dishwashing facilities. For a short time, Wiese and Lenstrom had use of one stove in the old kitchen, which they used for fries and tater tots. Thats a thing of the past, though, and the home ec stoves simply can’t do the volume, so those items are off the menu.
Keeping things hot was also a challenge until the school bought some warmers. And, of course, there is no room for students to dine. Students currently eat their lunch out in the hallway.
Very little storage space means food is ordered on a week-by-week basis. There is a walk-in fridge but it was taken away once during the remodel and the cooks don’t put a lot of faith in its permanence.
Disposable trays and utensils are kept next door in the school meeting room (The tiny home dishwasher they use for some items does not meet health standards for dinnerware).
Dishwashing is a constant challenge. Everything must be washed by hand and many of the larger pots and trays just won’t fit.
Wiese and Lenstrom come up with their own menu every week, doing what they can with what they have and the kitchens capabilities. Most of the food is frozen and premade.
The irregular ovens don’t allow for precise cooking. The two cooks experiment with what works and if it doesn’t work they try something else the following week. Students complain about missing some of their favorite items like chicken nuggets and pizza, but there is simply no place to store these foods.
Both Wiese and Lenstrom chose to come work at the school because it is closer to their homes. They may have been a little shocked at the start of the year but they take it in stride these days. They have been told the new kitchen will be completed after Christmas, but no one has made any promises. Hats off to these two women for serving the students of Ansley School with something nutritious and good to eat - regardless of the kitchen it comes out of.