Originally published in Castine Patriot, September 19, 2019
Chef goes from fine dining to school cafeteria
by Monique Labbe
After decades of serving fancy dinners and five-course meals to high-end clients in New York City and the West Coast, Paul Buese has taken on a new clientele: children.
Buese is the new cook at Penobscot Community School, and his mantra has been consistent since school started earlier this month.
“I don’t want any frozen food, I don’t want any canned food. It’s important to me that everything is made from scratch and is fresh and isn’t your typical school cafeteria food,” said Buese before lunch service was to start on September 17.
Buese took over the school’s kitchen from Lisa Cloukey, who retired toward the end of the school year last year to spend more time with her family.
The cook has dedicated his life to cooking, attended culinary school in California and has worked in the Bay Area, New York City and, most recently, in Salt Lake City, Utah, as a private chef. While he was out there cooking gourmet meals for his clients, his family had quietly started to migrate to Maine, and Buese also began to feel that pull.
“My sister married a Mainer 15 years ago, and most of the family just ended up here,” he said. “I decided I wanted to be closer to everyone.”
Coincidentally, the school found itself in need of a new cook at the same time, and Buese’s mom Deborah Buese, an ed tech at the school, thought it would be the perfect pairing.
Buese agreed, and now, two weeks into the school year, finds himself cooking both breakfast and lunch for the student body and school staff. It is an entirely new way of cooking for him, and it has been a fun, albeit challenging, learning curve.
“The other day I made spaghetti with a homemade sauce and I thought the kids were going to think it was the best thing ever, but I ended up with pasta and sauce all over the floor and the kitchen was a mess. Turns out kids aren’t big fans of things with sauces,” he said.
One thing that was a hit was the hand-breaded, baked chicken tenders Buese made for the students on Tuesday this week. The meal was paired with freshly cut vegetables with ranch dip and fresh fruit Buese cut up earlier in the morning.
Buese has also done Belgian waffles and French toast for breakfast, and plans to continue making sure the students are fed meals that taste good while also using real ingredients.
“I opened up a thing of fruit cocktail, just to see if it was something I could actually serve. I don’t think I can do it,” he said.
Looking around the lunch room and listening to the students talk about the food, it is easy to see that they are not complaining about their food.
“Mr. Buese, can you make this again?” one student asked in reference to the homemade chicken tenders as he brought his empty tray to the dish area on Tuesday.
“That’s what has been the most fun so far, is getting to know the kids, and getting to know what they like and giving them things they aren’t used to having,” he said.