Chili, chef salad and chicken nuggets

Juris
Juris Graney
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23 years of cooking up a storm in the Straits

Delilah Rose doing what she does best, helping children at Canon Richards Memorial Academy.

Delilah Rose isn't just the cook at Canon Richards Memorial Academy - she's matriarch, problem solver, logistics specialist, nutritionist, special events planner and time management whiz.

In the time it takes Ms. Rose to prepare lunch, helped by part-time employee and daughter Kim White, a teacher arrives looking for gloves and a student enquires about a lost camera.

Then, as a stream of hungry teens arrives in the cafeteria for recess, she deftly maneuvers around student helpers, answers questions about misplaced lunch orders, jots down notes, collects money, chats with the little ones about why there's only one particular type of canned fruit and uncovers a treasure trove of plastic spoons that, for a few minutes, had disappeared.

"We get all kinds of requests," she smiles. "If you can't find it, you go and ask Delilah."

When the kids finally file out of the dining hall, there is quiet. The morning rush may be over, but preparations for lunch begin.

Today it's hotdogs and chef salad; 18 packages of wieners defrost in the sink, 10 heads of lettuce have been chopped and mixed with, among other things, tomato, beef, broccoli and cauliflower.

Chili -- a dish she is famous for among the students -- is on the menu tomorrow and, over the course of the next month, no dishes are served twice.

Despite the appearance of chaos, everything in Ms. Rose's kitchen runs as smoothly and calmly as a Michelin star restaurant, but you have to expect that after 23 years.

With experience comes the ability to perform under pressure.

Ms. Rose is the only remaining staff member still employed at the school since it opened its doors in 1988, something she is immensely proud of.

"Some people say 'well, she must get paid good,' but it's not that. I get to stay home, I don't have to go out west, I get to see my grandchildren grow up and I get to work with Kim."

Back in 1985 she found employment in the kitchen at Straits Elementary, but gave it up in the spring three years later with plans to go back to the Flowers Cove fish plant. But then-principal Levi Squires - who started the school's annual Christmas roast on the last day before the Yuletide break - had other ideas.

"He said to me, 'I didn't see your name on the list,'" Ms. Rose recalled.

"I told him I didn't intend on applying but he said that you never knew what could happen. So I put my name down and here I am. I'm still here.

"I thought 'I'll try it and see what happens.' There was the Silver Spoon and L&E restaurants across the road and I couldn't see the youngsters going for this but they did.

"I'm here to please and if you don't please them, well, they won't come back."

After two and a half months of being by herself, she realized the workload was too much, so the school hired Virtue Parrill who worked part-time -- a position her daughter now fills.

The division of duties made it easier and, over time, Ms. Rose expanded the menu.

Instead of a five gallon pot of homemade beef and rice soup bubbling away on a hot plate and half a dozen loaves of bread transformed into sandwiches sitting in the cooler, there's now chicken nuggets and shake and bake chicken.

Some of the classics remain though and she often fields calls from former students looking for her not-so-secret chili recipes.

"Of course I give the recipes out," she scoffs, "a scattered time they'll pop back in and say 'what have you got on the menu today?' They're always phoning for recipes."

"That's because they can't get it like Delilah's," Ms. Rose's daughter adds.

The hot turkey sandwiches - with meat, mash potato, corn and gravy - are still a hit and it's a big day when grilled cheese and bologna is on the menu. They still make ham and cheese sandwiches, but on a different scale.

Her roast turkey Christmas supper is also a thing of legend on the Straits, but not all the dishes are still popular.

"When I went here you'd have mashed potatoes and hamburger meat and gravy," Ms. White says.

"We tried it on our menu, but the kids these days didn't like it, guess it's a change in tastes."

Principal Marsha Genge says she remembers being served by Ms. Rose -- and she also remembers that very same dish the newer generation of students turn their noses up at.

"I remember the hamburger meat and gravy," she says.

"We loved it."

The kitchen has largely remained the same in all those years, save for a few more coolers and a smaller stove top, but some things are a little different.

For example, when Ms. Rose first started at the brown-brick building, student numbers in grades seven to 12 from Anchor Point to Eddies Cove alone numbered 284.

Now there are just 236 from kindergarten to the final year students.

"I've seen a lot of faces come and go," she smiles as a pint-sized pupil darts into the kitchen to grab a plastic spoon.

"Some are louder than others but we've got no bad kids here."

What does Ms. White think of working with her mother?

"One of the best jobs I've had," she says as her eldest daughter Trisha wanders into the kitchen.

And what does Trisha think about being served by her nan?

"Better than having mom," Trisha laughs.

 

  "That's not the first time that's been said," Ms. White quips.

 

"Nan's a better cook, she's older, she's got to be better and old nan is better than nan," Trisha concludes, heading back out to the other students.

As for the principal, Ms. Genge couldn't be happier.

"When I went to Memorial University, in one of the courses we did they talked about cafeteria and school lunch programs and most of the other students talked about vending machines and French fries, while at our school we had home cooked meals made by a wonderful cook," she said.

"From an administrative perspective we don't have to worry about the cafeteria - she looks after it all.

"She's phenomenal. She's a backbone in this school and we know that she is going to have everything ready for us."

 

Organizations: Canon Richards Memorial Academy, Silver Spoon

Geographic location: Flowers Cove, Anchor Point, Eddies Cove

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