HUDSON—Food shortages are a new challenge, but “challenges turn into opportunities,” said Christopher Diamantatos, the Hudson City School District’s new food services director, in a phone interview September 13.
“I have never had so warm a reception as I have had” in Hudson, he added. This helps, because food services is “all about teamwork,” he said. “The food will always be the same.”
The Hudson City School District (HCSD) has two kitchens: one in the high school / junior high, another in Montgomery C. Smith Elementary School. The district provides school-day lunches and breakfasts for students in HCSD schools and at Questar III BOCES, as well as dinner for afterschool programs. (In the summer, it has provided breakfast and lunch for community children, including those in summer school.)
In addition to procuring, preparing, and serving meals, the food service staff must sanitize the kitchen and keep track of all the food acquired, prepared and sold. “We want no waste,” said Mr. Diamantatos.
The HCSD’s previous director of food services, Christopher Bateman, left this summer for a position in Troy, closer to where he lives. For its new food services director, the HCSD decided to join a Capital District BOCES program. Mr. Diamantatos, said he has known Mr. Bateman for several years and joined Capital Region BOCES when he got interested in the HCSD opening.
Mr. Diamantatos said he was born in Albany and graduated from Johnson Wales College in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1992, with an associates degree in culinary arts. He worked in restaurants and hotels until he became dietary supervisor for a nursing home. That started about 20 years of managing food services for nursing homes in the Albany area. His third and most recent one was Evergreen Commons in East Greenbush. He became a dietary director and regional manager.
At nursing homes, Mr. Diamantatos said, “I had the privilege of serving the residents. He called the work “very rewarding” and also “very heavy,” especially the past year and a half.
Still, leaving the nursing home world “was a tough decision,” Mr. Diamantatos said, adding that he still goes there about once a week to help break in his replacements.
“I never thought I’d switch to a school,” Mr. Diamantatos continued. But now, he said, “I want to serve the little ones. They will be our future. I hope this is my last hurrah. I want to make the best of it.”
On another matter he said, “I trust my staff. It is in tune with the students. It knows what they like and dislike. My staff has incredible insights. Everybody has been so great.”
Mr. Diamantatos said that over the past year, food service providers have had to face a new situation: food shortages “due to a lack of staff in vendors and suppliers.”
For Evergreen Commons, the usual amount of chicken he usually procured got less available and more expensive. He had to start ordering chicken 2 weeks in advance.
‘My staff has incredible insights. Everybody has been so great.’
Food Services Dir. Christopher Diamantatos
For the HCSD, milk used to come twice a week. Now it comes only once a week. In addition, the “students love pizza,” especially a certain brand. But now the supplier no longer delivers that brand of pizza. So food services has been experimenting with finding something else students want, from a different brand of pizza to different dishes. Mr. Diamantatos sees this challenge as an opportunity to find out what the students really like.
He said his short term goal is to “maintain the excellence,” Mr. Bateman left him with.
In the long term, Mr. Diamantatos continued, he would like to add his own stamp. Ideas he has include:
• “I would like to see students more involved in food services “
• A recipe cooking contest. The winning dishes would join the cafeteria’s repertoire. “It would be fun”
•A kitchen garden. It could start small, with fresh herbs and tomatoes. Some nursing homes have such a garden.
“This is a new chapter,” said Mr. Diamantatos. And “everyone has been so agreeable. Honestly, I’m so excited.”