*Port High kids at school lunch
Beverly Dunn has the recipe down.
10 large onions.
5 pounds of celery.
4 pounds of carrots.
8 pounds of chicken.
Gallons of chicken stock and noodles — lots and lots of hearty Kluski noodles.
Dunn doesn’t cook for an army, but close enough. As head cook and chief soup maker at Port Washington High School, she makes homemade soup five days a week for students who stand in the line for Dunn’s specialties.
“Love — that’s my secret ingredient,” she said.
That sounds a little like a line from a Campbell’s soup commercial, but it’s true. Nothing canned would be caught dead near one of Dunn’s soups. Every vegetable is fresh and hand-chopped by Dunn, who by 7:30 every morning has her pots on the stove and is working on the soup of the day.
Her goal is not just to make enough soup to feed a hundred or more hungry teenagers, but to make soups they like and that are good for them.
“Soup is one of those meals that is easy to prepare, nutritious and makes you feel good. It’s comfort food,” Dunn said. “And kids like it. They might not even realize they’re eating something that’s good for them.”
Dunn, the mother of two, knows what kids like and has edited her cookbook and refined her recipes over the years.
“Of course, chicken noodle is a favorite,” she said.
So are taco soup, chili, cream of chicken, cream of potato and cream of broccoli.
“Our kids love broccoli, which surprised me too when I started,” Dunn said.
Split pea used to make a cameo appearance on the menu at the request of social studies teacher Tim Greisch, but it didn’t exactly receive rave reviews from the rest of Dunn’s customers.
“We don’t do split pea any more,” Dunn said. “No one ate it, except Mr. Greisch.”
That’s not to say those are all the soups in Dunn’s repertoire. Her cookbook is a nondescript green binder containing 65 recipes she’s gleaned from various sources. Many of them look a little like math homework, with handwritten calculations used to convert recipes that serve four into ones that feed more than 100.
“When you expand a recipe that much, they never turn out quite like they’re supposed to, so you have to tweak them until they are just right,” she said. “I always try a new soup out on my family or someone else before I make it for the kids, then I have to figure out how to make it times 50.”
Although Dunn likes to “keep it simple because that’s what kids like,” she also tries to expose them to foods they might not normally eat, well aware that left to their own devices teenagers are not ones to challenge their palates.
“I had a boy ask me one time what sour cream was,” she said.
Dunn didn’t intend to become Port High’s head cook and didn’t know she’d be making soup by the gallon every day when she took a job with the Port Washington-Saukville School District’s food service.
“When my kids started at Lincoln Elementary School, I took a job with the food service department because it matched my kids’ school schedule perfectly,” she said. “I thought it would be great if I could do this for a few years.”
That was 13 years ago. Her son Collin graduated from Port High three years ago. Her daughter Amanda received her diploma last year, but Dunn is still at the school.
She rose through the ranks of the food service department because she has the perfect resume for a school cook, Food Service Director Clark Blachly said.
“The ideal person to have is someone who cooks for their family,” he said.
Dunn is not formally educated in the culinary arts but has more experience than many of those who are.
“Ever since I was in high school, I worked in food service — restaurants, hospitals,” she said. “I didn’t go to school for it; it’s just something I’ve always enjoyed.”
Her speciality is making delicious food, and a lot of it.
“I’ve always worked in jobs where I cooked in large quantities,” she said. “At home, that can be a problem. We have lots of leftovers.”
At Port High, however, there is seldom any leftover soup, and Dunn considers that to be the highest compliment she could receive.
“There are some kids who say they like the soup, but even if they don’t say anything, some come back for seconds,” she said. “That says it all, and it’s the best feeling in the world because you know that they really like what you’re cooking for them.”
Image information: Port Washington High School head cook and chief soup maker Beverly Dunn served a bowl of her homemade Parmesan potato soup last week.
Photo by Bill Schanen IV