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Five For Friday: Chef Ann Cooper, The Renegade Lunch Lady

by Marissa on April 13, 2012

Chef Ann Cooper is a woman after my own heart because she is on the front lines making progress in an area of wellness I am so passionate about. The Renegade Lunch Lady is voting with her very own knife to change the way we feed our children in schools.

Need I say more?

Q1. What is the #1 wellness practice you live by? That thing that you do every day without fail because it revs you up from the inside out.

A. My number one wellness practice is eating in season. Living off the land is important not only for your own body (produce tends to be in season when you need it most i.e. citrus during cold and flu season) but also for the environment. Shopping at the farmers market and taking part in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) basket allow me to to eat and cook in season in a fun way!

Q2. The premise of the blog is that wherever you are in life, is exactly where you need to be. How did you get to where you are today?

A. I fell in love with cooking and ingredients when I became a cook in my 20s. This love for quality food led to research for my second book, Bitter Harvest, where I discovered just how poor the state of food had become in the past couple of decades. I then got into school food when I became the Executive Chef and Director of Nutrition and Wellness at a school in New York. I was amazed what we were feeding our children and knew that I needed to do something about it – that this would be my life’s calling. I now ensure that students in the 48 schools of the Boulder Valley School District receive a healthy, delicious, fresh, scratch-cooked meal everyday. I also want to bring my message to schools across the country through my website: The site contains all the tools and resources needed to change any school lunch.

Q3. What was your biggest transformation along the way?

A. Definitely from being a “celebrity” chef, catering to celebrities and the upper-class in places like the Putney Inn in Vermont or the Holland America Cruise line – to becoming a lunch lady! My customers now range from pre-schoolers to teenagers 🙂

Q4. If you could only own five items, what would they be?

A. My chef knives & pans  – bicycle & equipment – hiking boots & equipment – computer – car

Q5. What is the theme song for your life right now and why?

A. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Israel “IZ” Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole

We are currently in “rainbow” mode here at the school district. We have installed salad bars in all 48 schools and are asking kids to be adventurous by putting lots of colors of the fruits and vegetable rainbow on their trays!

About Chef Ann

Chef Ann Cooper is a celebrated author, chef, educator, and enduring advocate for better food for all children. In a nation where children are born with shorter estimated life expectancies than their parents because of diet-related illness, Ann is a relentless voice of reform by focusing on the links between food, family, farming and children’s health and wellness.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY, Ann has been a chef for more than 30 years including positions with Holland America Cruises, Radisson Hotels, Telluride Ski Resort as well as serving as Executive Chef at the renowned Putney Inn in Vermont. She has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, and Time Magazine and has appeared on NPR’s ‘Living on Earth,’ ABC’s Nightline, CNN, PBS’ To The Contrary and the CBS Morning Show and many other media outlets.

Ann is the author of four books: Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children (2006), In Mother’s Kitchen: Celebrated Women Chefs Share Beloved Family Recipes (2005), Bitter Harvest: A Chef’s Perspective on the Hidden Dangers in the Foods We Eat and What You Can do About It (2000) and A Woman’s Place is in the Kitchen: The Evolution of Women Chefs (1998). She is past president of The American Culinary Federation of Central Vermont, and past president and board member of Women’s Chefs and Restaurateurs. She also served on the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board, a Congressional appointment, and was an Executive Committee member of Chefs Collaborative – all in an effort to raise awareness about the value of healthful, seasonal, organic, and regional foods.

In 2009, Ann founded Food Family Farming Foundation (F3) as a nonprofit focusing on solutions to the school food crisis. F3’s pivotal project is The Lunch Box – a web portal that provides free and accessible tools, recipes and community connections to support school food reform.

Chef Ann is happily working overtime as a Chef, Nutrition Services Director, Consultant, Author, Public Speaker, and Advocate because she sees a need for change and has the gifts to help. She envisions a time soon when being a chef working to feed children fresh, delicious, and nourishing food will no longer be considered “renegade.”


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