CAPE ELIZABETH — When I walked into the kitchen at Cape Elizabeth Middle School last week, Judy Levesque was making double-decker BLT sandwiches.

Great, I thought. I can slap bacon, lettuce and tomato on bread as well as anybody.

But then Levesque began instructing me in her method. First I had to dip a brush the size of a paintbrush into some melted butter and paint each slice of bread. Then I had to drop the bread on a sizzling griddle, just long enough to get each slice toasty brown.

Finally, I had to assemble the sandwich itself: one slice of bread covered with shredded lettuce and four slices of tomato, topped with another slice of bread, topped with two slices of bacon broken into four pieces, topped with more lettuce and a final slice of bread.

But then came the hard part. Levesque told me to secure four wooden toothpicks near the four corners of the assembled sandwich. Then I was to cut the sandwich diagonally – twice – in such a way that each little triangle of the multi-layered sandwich had one toothpick holding it together. On my first try, I somehow got three toothpicks in one triangle. But by my second or third sandwich, I was getting the hang of it.

I still wasn’t finished. I then had to plate the sandwich by taking each triangle and laying it on its side on the plate. I left a space in the middle of the four triangles for chips and some pickles.

After working what seemed like an eternity on one sandwich, I asked Levesque why all the fuss? I mean, this is school lunch, not an Old Port bistro.

“Everybody eats with their eyes,” said Levesque, 64, as she placed a tray of calzones in the oven. “You want it to look nice. Doing it this way is something the kids really seem to like.”

Lunch ladies care about visual presentation and what kids like?

Who knew?

MADE TO ORDER

As a cook/server at Cape Elizabeth Middle School, Levesque plans and serves a wide variety of meal options for about 200 middle-school students each day. The day I worked with her, the main entrees – a pulled pork sandwich and sweet and sour pork on brown rice – were prepared in the back, in the main kitchen.

But in Levesque’s area behind the serving counter, she was preparing BLTs, calzones, one-person pizzas and hot chicken sandwiches. For $2.85, the students could get a hot entree plus a beverage and the salad bar, or they could have a made-to-order sandwich instead of the prepared entree.

Yes, made to order.

After I made BLTs with Levesque, she looked at the clock and told me the first group of kids would be coming in soon. So she stationed me near the hot entrees and showed me how much to scoop out: about two tongs’ worth of pulled pork on a bun, and about two ladles of sweet and sour pork on one scoop of rice.

I was worried about not being fast enough to keep up, so I started scooping ahead of time. At one point, I had maybe six trays of pulled pork sandwiches sitting on the counter.

“You might not want to do the hot items too much ahead of time; they’ll get cold,” Levesque said.

Once the students started coming in, I found I was right. I couldn’t keep up. I started getting sloppy, splashing the pork’s barbecue sauce all over the pink lunch tray. Lucky for me, the students didn’t seem to mind. When one boy grabbed the messiest tray I had prepared, with sauce splattered all over it, I yelled, “Thank you very much” as he sauntered down the line.

Then I ran out of buns. Levesque was out back somewhere, so I started frantically opening cabinets and steamer containers – even the oven – looking for buns.

But these middle schoolers were more patient than I had expected, and not one complained about the lack of buns. They just chose something else and walked on.

The lunch room I worked in shares a wall with the lunch room for the adjacent Pond Cove Elementary School, but my work, and Levesque’s, was focused on lunch for middle schoolers. And I was surprised by how polite these middle schoolers were.

PLEASE AND THANK YOU

Later, when I was making sandwiches at the portable sandwich station set up in the cafeteria, I was confronted with comments like “May I have American cheese?” and “Please put some honey mustard on” and “Thank you.”

Still, I was a little overwhelmed making the sandwiches because of all the choices offered. There were more than a half-dozen kinds of bread, a dozen or more veggies, and more condiments than I’ve ever seen in one place. There was even virgin olive oil and hummus.

At the sandwich station, I worked beside Jean Lavallee, another server, who told me to put two slices of meat and two slices of cheese in a standard sandwich. But I was to put three of each in a wrap or sub.

Some students wanted four or five veggies on top of that, so I found myself trying to cram stuff in while a line of eight to 10 youngsters waited patiently for me to get to them.

At one point, I was trying to jam some tuna salad into a sub roll with an ice cream scoop when a student said, “There’s a spreader right over there,” and pointed to what looked like a giant butter knife, perfect for spreading. Other students helped me tell the difference between honey mustard and brown mustard.

I also needed a little help finding banana peppers. I should have figured they were the yellow ones, but the students didn’t seem to mind pointing them out.

“That’s really the best part of working here, that all the kids and teachers are really nice,” Levesque said.

Not to mention well fed.

 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]