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New Chef Joins School District Central Kitchen
Chef Jason Beach is at the ready in the Oakdale Joint Unified School District Central Kitchen. Beach was recently named the Director of Nutrition for the district. Teresa Hammond/The Leader

Oakdale Joint Unified students as well as families are in for something special, as the Oakdale Joint Unified School District has recently partnered with Chef Jason Beach, tapping him as the new Director of Nutritional Services.

Joining the district in July of this year, the accomplished as well as well-traveled chef presented a report on Nutritional Standards in School Lunches at the recent board meeting.

According to Beach, the district has much work to do, by way of nutritious meals, yet with a sound background and experience he feels he is up for the task.

“I had heard from a lot of different colleagues that the community was something special,” Chef Beach said of Oakdale, after a five-year tenure with Stanislaus Schools. “That it was something unique. That the community really cared about what was happening in the school district.

“I want a leader who cares about the community, who cares about the children, who wants change and positive change at that,” he added.

A longtime passion for cooking, influenced by his grandmother at a young age, Beach has attended both Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Las Vegas, as well as earned his Bachelor’s Degree from Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“It was amazing. I got to work with some of the best chefs in the world, outstanding people,” he said of his time in Las Vegas. “My classmates as well.”

The recently hired Director of Nutritional Services has had numerous experiences from fine dining, to rehabbing school district menus. His first job after receiving his degree was as a District Chef in Arizona.

“I was basically just bringing my gourmet skills to the community and trying to help rebuild their menus,” he shared.

The culinary and nutrition expert noted, while Oakdale’s program is greatly lacking in many areas, he is excited for what lies in the future. With meal plans and commodities already secured it is a transformation and endeavor which will take a year to complete.

“The program has been kind of status quo. It hasn’t been renovated, it hasn’t been revitalized,” he said of Oakdale’s district meal plan. He also pointed out that the equipment is the first thing in need of updating.

“So we can actually produce a higher quality product,” he said of the renovation. “Just like quality ingredients, equipment matters. Subpar ingredients produce subpar products.”

And if there’s one thing he doesn’t want for the district, it is to be in the subpar range.

“We’re trying to make adjustments as we go along, as we transition,” Beach said, “moving from some of the older products to some of the newer products.”

To help ensure a well-received transition from the existing meal plan to his future plan, Beach conducted surveys at the K-6 campuses. Inquiries such as favorite fruit at breakfast? What type of vegetables at lunch? The answers to these questions, well as others, will help the chef and his team with future menus.

“I really wanted to come over here and do what I do best,” he said. Noting, upon hearing and learning what the district had to offer he felt he could make an impact on the menu, which he felt was very simple, bland and very repetitive.

“My whole focus here is, I want to build the best student possible and that can only be done through nutrition and education,” Beach stated. “They go hand in hand and so many people forget that. We have to nourish our body as well as our mind.”

The culinary enthusiast added he felt the menu was simple basic products. Offering canned vegetables and placing them cold on the salad bar, versus heating and seasoning them.

“The staff and the administration, they care. They care like I have not seen districts care in some time,” the new hire noted of what impressed him most once joining OJUSD. “They want these kids to have the best possible education and experience regardless of the obstacles that are in the path. They don’t want to stop growing, they don’t want to stop being better. That inspires me daily.”