HENDERSON COUNTY, Ky (WEHT) – A team of Henderson County students are practicing their slicing, dicing and spicing under the watchful eyes of Coach Charlotte Baumgartner.
The Colonels are preparing to defend their national title in the Junior Chef Competition, making a chicken rice bowl with fresh farm ingredients.
“Something that they come with, they design.”
-And they cook, to win the prize.
“Every kid on that team won a full ride scholarship to Sullivan University.”
These kids already know they want a career as a chef. Something Charlotte didn’t know as a teenager. In fact, it wasn’t until she was well into her 40s that she figured out this was her calling.
Charlotte runs the cafeterias at Henderson County Schools, but she’s the first to give away the credit.
“I have an amazing staff,” said Charlotte. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
It wasn’t like this when Charlotte became Director of Nutrition 8 years ago.
“The first thing I did was start talking to the students,” said Charlotte. “They didn’t like the menu a lot.”
They had a lot to say, she she asked what they did like.
“They wanted tacos everyday.”
And the light bulb went off.
“I had to base the menu on their suggestions, because if I didn’t, they’re not gonna eat.”
Then there’s the nutrition standards. The menu has to fit a long list of regulations from Henderson County, the State of Kentucky and the USDA.
“It’s like a big puzzle.”
“A red orange and a dark green and the legume.”
“Make sure you’re serving 10 ounces of meat a week, 2 ounces a day.”
“And the grain changes constantly.”
As I said, Charlotte’s background was not in nutrition or food service. She started in health care and moved to schools.
“I was with special education.”
Her hobby of making jams in her personal kitchen prompted a coworker to suggest she apply for the nutrition position.
“I thought ‘Are you serious?'”
She got the job, and a bit of a shock.
“I was thinking, what have you done? I kept thinking ‘Oh my goodness I’m in over my head.”
But Charlotte does not give up. She took classes and became a nutritionist.
Charlotte soon hit her stride, applying for grants to get new programs going, like free lunch for all.
“Every child should be able to come through the line and eat, no matter what. That was extremely important to me, and that’s what we did.”
Also, the backpack grab and go means, and summer feeding programs.
“The thought of a child being hungry, and not having food tears me up. It breaks your heart.”
Her staff tucking in farm fresh fruits and veggies. Not only making the meals, but delivering them too.
“If it’s a need we can meet, we’re gonna meet it. It’s something that we can do, so we make sure we take care of it.”
Sometimes meeting a need requires the help of Charlotte’s pet goat Snippy, who accompanies the director of nutrition as she volunteers, reading to the district’s pre-schoolers.
“I’ve always had a passion to help. A desire to make sure that everybody’s included, everybody’s taken care of.”
Feeding that passion, better late than never.
“I think I was kinda meant for this job. Once I got into it, it’s where I’m supposed to be. It really is.”