Amy Underwood and the lunch program met their greatest opponent on a drive up to the Temple in 2009. They hadn’t guessed that this opponent would be chili.
“I had a student who was helping me out, and he was loading the car to take everything up to the middle school,” Amy Underwood, the head of the lunch program, recalls. “We had these big containers of chili and I asked him – and I should have checked, but I trusted him – if everything was secure, and nothing was going to fall out, and he assured me it was fine. All of the chili fell all over the back of the suburban. It still smells like chili to this day.”
This accident, called “The Great Chili Incident of ’09,” is just one of the stories that Amy holds dear to her heart. Before she came to SAAS, she was a chef instructor at the Art Institute of Seattle where she specialized in baking and pastry classes. Before this, she was a pastry chef at the Inn on Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. But before any of these jobs, Amy hadn’t always thought her life would be about cooking.
“It was a career change for me,” she shares. “My undergraduate degree was in broadcast journalism and Spanish language literature and culture. I thought I was going to go be a bilingual reporter somewhere in the world. I went and did my internship when I was a senior in college and I realized that being a reporter was not necessarily a good fit for me, and because I was a senior and I was about to graduate with this degree, I didn’t know what to do.” Instead of giving up, however, and entering a job that she would end up hating, she branched out.
“I went and did a variety of jobs in sales and marketing,” she explains. “I was in software sales and marketing for a number of years. I really didn’t like it. I like things that allow me to be a little behind the scenes rather than being in front of large groups of people.”
This was where her husband Joel Underwood, speech and debate coach and ninth grade history teacher at SAAS, comes into the story.
“Joel and I had been married for a couple years at that point and he asked what it was that I love to do, and what I would do if I could do anything in the world, and I said, ‘Cook!’,” she says. “That’s what I do in my free time, ever since I was a little kid, because that’s what’s fun for me. I quit my job and went to culinary school and I’ve been doing things in kitchens ever since. I’ve worked in restaurants, I’ve worked in hotels, I’ve worked in a sorority, I’ve had my own business, I worked on the UW campus for a little while, I worked at Villa Academy for a little while, and now I’m here.”
Since the very beginning, her goals have been to prepare delicious food for large numbers of kids that can also transport well between the middle and upper schools. Still, she is always looking to improve the program in any way possible. “I had always cooked for restaurants which was a very different style of cooking. This is considered banquet style cooking. Plated cooking is very different than banquet,” she explains. “And the whole reason we have an upper school lunch program is because one day a student came to me and said that they thought it’d be a neat idea if we had an upper school lunch program. We started doing that, and it became a goal to make it a workable thing.”
Other goals of hers over the years included adding snacks at break time and putting lunch counts online, all per the request of teachers and students.
When asked what an average day looks like, Amy makes the connection between her lunch program and a performance, which she hopes resonates with the students. “It’s kind of a 24/7 job because you’re either thinking about the menus you’re going to create, ordering food, or you’re in the process of making the food,” she says. “It’s sort of like putting on a show in the theater. You’re doing all of this preparation each day and the lunch time is like the show. After the show, you can kind of relax.”
Amy comes in at 8 a.m. and stays until 5 p.m., though there are different shifts of people. “Some come in at 5 a.m., and some come in at 10:30,” Amy explains. “Three days a week there’s a delivery, so our whole area is filled with boxes that need to be put away somehow. We need to figure out where to put everything and we restock everything we need to restock for the beginning of service.”
Amy has been passionate about food and nutrition ever since she was a kid, and at SAAS, she works behind the scenes, creates amazing food, and lives her dream every day.