School cafeterias and the lunchtime ritual they host represent a respite from pedantry for both students and teachers. Sure, some students chip away on homework mid-bite, but explicit knowledge transmission from teacher to student remains at lunch a rarity.
At St. John’s Jesuit High School, Sharon Muldoon seeks to remedy the scholastic imbalance between the lunch room and classroom one daily menu at a time.
Muldoon began her academic cooking career at Perrysburg’s Saint Rose School, stepping in one day to make breakfast for students after the school cook didn’t show. Next, she assumed kitchen management duties at the University of Toledo’s Libbey Hall at the student union, producing meals for distinguished guests including the university president.
As the Director of Campus Dining at St. John’s for the better part of a decade, Muldoon supervises the seven back-of-house employees who prepare lunches for nearly 700 students each day.
She has transformed the traditionally underwhelming cafeteria line into a series of windows similar in spirit to a food court. Muldoon said that this layout easily parallels the increasingly eclectic campus dining options current students might find while attending college.
In addition to the lineup of build-your-own deli sandwiches and salads that draw consistent lines, Muldoon has instituted a “Window on the World” station, featuring a rotating menu with cultural inspiration atypical of high school cafeterias. The colloquial acronym for this station is “WOW.”
From time to time, St. John’s students can expect Indian food including chana masala, chicken tikka masala, samosas and Basmati rice. Other days she serves parmesan garlic sauce chicken garnished with greens arranged into plate-accenting foliage. Dishes like Cuban mojo pork and Thai curries have also made appearances on the cafeteria menu.
For Black History Month, Muldoon developed a special menu in conjunction with the school’s 20/20 Jesuit Scholars Program Director, Thomas Doyle, which program provides underserved Toledoans the opportunity to attend St John’s. The menu comprised fried catfish, mac n’ cheese, biscuits and honey, red beans and rice, fried okra, chicken wings, potato salad and pound cake. Southern inspired coterie gastronomic inclusivity designed to reinforce a month celebrating black history.
Through serving a menu ambitious by school cafeteria standards, Muldoon has created an environment conducive to encouraging students to step outside of their culinary comfort zones.
“Once you expose the kids to new dishes, pretty soon they request them.” Muldoon said
A self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist, Muldoon can trace her disposition to the time she spent expediting food for esteemed University of Toledo guests as a kitchen manager. Now, she admits she has grown into her current serving students as well as catering donor and alumni events.
“It’s like I own my own restaurant; it’s my dream job,” Muldoon said. “I feel guilty picking my check up.”