Mary Anne Lund makes baked pears with seasoned goat cheese, bacon
Cooking for 425 teenage girls sounds as challenging as a tour of duty with famously crabby Gordon Ramsay of the Fox reality show "Hell's Kitchen."
But it isn't, according to Mary Anne Lund, head chef for seven years at Regina Dominican High School, a Catholic school in Wilmette.
"From what I hear, they absolutely love everything," says the Roselle resident. "We get no complaints."
And why would she?
Mary Anne doles out fresh soup like potato or chicken noodle, big salads like chicken Caesar, Italian pasta or Southwest chicken, as well as corned beef sandwiches with coleslaw and turkey paninis.
For dessert, the girls might get cookies or yogurt parfaits with granola, fresh strawberries and whipped cream.
If the cafeteria at my high school had served food like that, I wouldn't have complained either.
Mary Anne was strictly a home cook until her first husband died 24 years ago.
She was pregnant with her fourth child and needed medical benefits, so she turned to office work. But it was a yawner.
"I like to create things; to stare at a computer makes me nuts," she says.
Her son's hockey coach - who now is her husband - Larry Lund, encouraged her to pursue her longtime dream of becoming a chef, so Mary Anne enrolled in the culinary program at Triton College in River Grove, and landed a job at the Sofitel Hotel in Rosemont.
"There is nothing like working with high-end food; you have the best of everything," she says. "I was like a kid in a candy store."
But the hours were grueling, so she turned to the daytime routine of school cafeterias with summers off.
No matter how much cooking she does on the job, including side jobs with her own company, Last Bite Catering, Mary Anne has always been up for cooking at home.
"I got it from my parents," she says. "Sunday dinners with family were always very important."
Her own children are grown but not gone, so Mary Anne soldiers on.
"A lot of times I'm feeding my sons and their girlfriends; my daughters have kids and they come over," she says. "We end up being a big crowd."
As much as she enjoys working at the high school from which she graduated, Mary Anne's dreams don't stop there.
"I would love to open something up; I could do a great soup, sandwich and salad place," she says. "But the economy is frightening."
Today we get a possible preview of what's to come with her Brie and pear panini.
For a heartier meal, she offers rack of lamb with roasted baby pears and herbed goat cheese.
It's too pricey for a high school cafeteria, but a nice treat for the family.