Debbie Herrera becomes new Food Services supervisor


New Food Services supervisor Debbie Herrera stands in front of a food truck. Lunch is temporarily being served from the trucks while the cafeteria undergoes construction. Photo by Lydia Seo.

Lydia Seo

Former restaurant and MVHS cafeteria chef replaces Frank Lihn as Food Services supervisor.

New Food Services supervisor Debbie Herrera stands in front of a food truck. Lunch is temporarily being served from the trucks while the cafeteria undergoes construction. Photo by Lydia Seo.
New Food Services supervisor Debbie Herrera stands in front of a food truck. Lunch is temporarily being served from the trucks while the cafeteria undergoes construction. Photo by Lydia Seo.
After graduating from the California Culinary Academy, supervisor Debbie Herrera added job after job to her professional career as a chef: she worked at high-end restaurants, hotels such as the Fairmont, senior retirement homes and hospitals, until finally arriving at MVHS. Here, she worked as a cook for some time. When the day came for the retirement of Frank Lihn, who had been the Food Services supervisor for many years, Herrera was ready to step into his shoes as the new supervisor.

Becoming supervisor

As she began to think about retirement from restaurant work, Herrera decided that she wanted to decrease the number of hours that she worked every week and be able to rest.

“I never had holidays off, I worked almost twelve hours a day,” Herrera said. “I didn’t know what it was like to have weekends off.”

Eventually, a coworker suggested that she work at a school. Herrera looked online and found a job vacancy at MVHS. She applied as a cafeteria cook, and was accepted.

For the past year and a half, Herrera had worked as a cook under Lihn. Following his retirement, there was a vacancy in the job, so Herrera served as the temporary supervisor until a new one was hired. After applying for the job herself, she was appointed as Lihn’s replacement because of her culinary degree as well as her work and management experience.

“When [Lihn] left and [the management] position was open, I had to step into his shoes until they interviewed managers,” Herrera said. “I already knew, from his point of view, how he worked — from prepping to cooking to ordering.”

Taking on responsibilities

Monica Quintana is a cook who began work at the beginning of the school year under Lihn’s supervision and is currently learning from Herrera. According to Quintana, not much has changed with regards to Herrera’s responsibilities.

“[Before Herrera became] supervisor, she did a lot of the work,” Quintana said. “She had already started doing the ordering, she was already doing all the cooking and she was doing the inventory.”

Before taking on the role of supervisor, Herrera had trained with Lihn and assisted with managerial duties before and during the transition between different supervisors. Lihn allowed Herrera to manage much of the food services.

“[It] was really nice because he gave me that opportunity,” Herrera said. “I learned some good things [from] him.”

Bringing the team together

Herrera wishes to pass on her knowledge to the rest of the food services staff in the same way as Lihn. She believes in the importance of communication between her employees and herself, and frequently interacts with them by sharing knowledge and ideas. In order to work together as a team, she holds weekly meetings every Tuesday morning for the staff to discuss and input suggestions and new ideas.

“It’s more team-building, more family-oriented,” Quintana said.

Although Herrera enjoys management and discussing her work with her employees, she remains passionate about and focused on her cooking.

“I won’t get away from the cooking, I still want to do that,” Herrera said. “Management is another side which I can do after school, but during school is when I still want to cook.”

Herrera works from about 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Along with the work she performs alongside her employees, she revises the order schedules to make Food Services run more smoothly. In addition, she wants to add a wider variety of food to the menu and let the staff cook more food themselves.

Junior Karen Xu, who buys lunch from the school daily, has noticed the change in the menu as well as in the quality of the food, which resulted from Herrera’s decision to promote cafeteria cooking and implement more kinds of food.

“I definitely think it was better than last year’s… I am impressed with the quality that they can get from the [food] trucks,” Xu said. “I’ve definitely seen more variety in the types of food that they’re offering.”

Great expectations for the cafeteria

Herrera looks forward to the new cafeteria’s completion and the greater opportunities for cooking with the new kitchen. In addition to the second floor for staff members and the improved interior design with the school colors, the process of making and distributing the food will change.

“Once we get the new café, it’s going to be awesome,” Herrera said. “[The café] is a university-type style … exhibition cooking means that [the students] are going to go to one station and we’re going to actually cook in front of [them].”

Even without the new building, however, Herrera enjoys the challenge of discovering the students’ likes and dislikes and tailoring the menu accordingly. In accordance with noticeable student preferences, she makes sure to order specific foods, such as chocolate chip cookies, from certain vendors.

Having worked at various establishments before arriving at MVHS, Herrera plans to settle down in her new role as food services supervisor and, like Lihn, stay until her eventual retirement.

“Working for MVHS, I have to say, overall, is one of the best jobs that I’ve had,” Herrera said. “I think this is where I’m going to stay until I retire.”